It is in no way disrespectful to this movie to say that I enjoyed the audience reaction as much as I enjoyed what was on the screen. In a theater filled with fans who had patiently waited for over an hour, it was possible to hear some lines softly recited along with the characters, some squeals of joy at seeing favorite moments depicted, and, in a few quiet scenes, some happily sad sniffs.
“Twilight,” the first in the Stephanie Meyer series of books about a high school romance where the boy happens to be a vampire, has become “Twilight” the movie and it has been brought to life with respectful diligence for the source material and a warm understanding of its characters and target audience. Catherine Hardwicke has developed something of a speciality in stories about teenagers with “13,” “The Nativity Story,” and “The Lords of Dogtown,” and one of the pleasures of the film is the way she shows us the rhythms of teenage interaction.
Bella (a perfectly cast Kristen Stewart) has left sunny Phoenix for the rainiest town in America, Forks, Washington, to live with her father. The students at her new school welcome her warmly but the boy who dazzles her is handsome Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). At first, he seems to dislike her, but it turns out that he has just been trying to hide from her and from himself how much he is attracted to her.
These days, it is increasingly difficult to find a reason for a couple not to get together so fast there is no time for a story to happen and Meyer specifically created Edward and Bella with a permanent dilemma to give her characters and her readers some breathing room to explore the relationship. Part of the appeal of the story is an almost-Victorian sense of repression, sacrifice, and longing, all so sincerely depicted it just might single-handedly bring back the swoon. Young girls can enjoy this story because of Bella’s sense of power — loving her so devotedly all but un-mans a creature designed to be “the world’s most dangerous predator.” Edward has the attributes of the adolescent ideal for romance since before the days of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Wuthering Heights” and “Titanic” — unconditional love, parental disapproval, and ultimate impossibility.
The film falters a little in the portrayal of the vampires, who seem, even by fantasy standards, unnaturally pasty-faced, and some of the special effects are a little cheesy. It’s hard to make someone super-fast without looking cartoony. But it benefits from some deft and easy humor and sly twists on both vampire lore (let’s just say that mirrors and sunlight are different for these vampires than for the traditional Bram Stoker variety, with subtle hints to crosses and garlic) and high school (giving it up on prom night takes on a new meaning). Hardwicke, originally a production designer, also lets the settings help tell the story, from the lush greens of the opening shots to the Cullen’s sun-filled home. But the movie belongs to Bella and Edward and Stewart and Pattinson show us a tenderness and devotion that makes them one of this year’s most romantic couples.