New ad posters for the upcoming Muppets movie picture Kermit and Co. in send-ups of the Twilight films (e.g., Miss Piggy as “Bella Swine”). And, a recent episode of the new Beavis and Butt-Head opens with the slackers watching Twilight in a movie theater: “Is Bella a zombie?” Beavis asks. “She’s always standing there with her mouth open.”
In truth, nothing about these lampoons is half as parodical as the haughtily titled The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. I write this knowing full well that nothing in this review will affect whether or not anyone plunks down their hard-earned cash to catch the penultimate installment in what feels like a never-ending franchise. Fans of the series still squeal at any cinematic appearance by Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and the habitually shirtless Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner).
I haven't read any of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight novels, but far from making me somehow unqualified to assess their film adaptations, it actually affords me an objectivity needed to grade the movies on their own merits. And, objectively speaking, Breaking Dawn — Part 1 stinks.
This is a languid mess on virtually every account—plot, acting, script, set design, special effects and a bloated score from Carter Burwell that sounds as if it was written for another movie entirely—intruding on every scene and sometimes drowning out the dialogue. Still, it’s better than the insipid soft-rock ditties interspersed throughout that make the whole spectacle sound like something that belongs on The WB.
The film opens with the long-awaited wedding between Edward and Bella, a woodland occasion that director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls; Gods and Monsters) clearly spent most of his budget and attention designing. Jacob stops by to dance and pout before the newlyweds are whisked away for their honeymoon on a small island off the coast of Brazil.
Despite building the entire series to this moment, Condon deprives the audience of any moment of surrender. Afraid he will literally ravish Bella to death during lovemaking, Edward channels his vampire impulses into turning the four-poster marital bed into nothing but feathers and splinters while consummating their marriage. His seed isn’t so restrained, however, and Bella quickly finds herself with a bloodsucker in the oven, much to the surprise of Edward, who over his century of existence apparently missed out on sex education. It’s hard to decide what is more antiquated—Edward’s Victorian sexual repression or the fact that he still uses Yahoo as his Internet search engine.
With Bella soon barricaded inside the Cullen compound, forces align over the fate of her rapidly gestating baby. The flea-bitten Quileutes conspire to destroy the satanic spawn, while Jacob—surprise—breaks with his pack and forms another uneasy alliance with Edward for the sake of saving Bella.
Breaking Dawn — Part 1 not only completes morphing the story’s virgin-angst subtext from the metaphorical to the literal, but it takes up a radically pro-life mantle when Bella refuses to abort her baby, even though her life may depend on it. In one of many episodes of high camp, Bella starts sating her fetus’ parasitic appetite by sucking blood decanted into a Styrofoam cup.
The film continues the Twilight saga’s tedious touchstones of vapid brooding, meaningless reaction shots and blurry CG skirmishes—the werewolves speak in some garbled, digitized baritone that sounds like Michael Clarke Duncan in Planets of the Apes. What’s different is the sheer silliness of it all, as if this time around the filmmakers decided to double down on the inherent self-parody. Jacob rips his shirt off mere seconds into the prologue, Bella’s dad (Billy Burke) is even more clueless than usual and the Cullens’ white face makeup resembles Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.
And the good news is that we get to do it all again next year. A mid-credits teaser hints at the plot turn at the heart of Breaking Dawn — Part 2. No matter — you can already count me as a member of Team Tiresome.