Film Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 1

The Romeo and Juliet of young-adult vampire stories begin their dewy walk into the sunset in part one of 'Breaking Dawn,' which will delight Twihards with its relentless fidelity to the novel. Non-fans are likely to find it both silly and rather dull.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn gets off to a promising start: As rain pours down in horror-movie sheets, teenage werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) explodes from his family's modest home, hurls a scrap of paper to the ground and gallops off into the gloom in wolf form… but not before ripping off his shirt to expose the six-pack over which tween girls of all ages have been swooning since the second Twilight movie. The inciting document, damp with the tears of grey Pacific Northwest skies, is, unsurprisingly, an invitation to the wedding of morose teen drama-queen Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), whom Jacob loved and lost to emo vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).

Let's give credit where it's due: Oscar-winning filmmaker Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) strikes a fine line between giving fiercely loyal Twihards exactly what they want and poking sly fun at the movies' retro Tiger Beat sensibilities, which offset the primordial power of fleshly lust by draping it in skittish teenage restraint. Unfortunately, the film quickly succumbs to the kind of mopey seriousness that makes high-schoolers' diaries such tedious reading. Bella dreads the thought of walking down the floral draped woodland-grove aisle conceived by her stylish, soon-to-be sister-in-law Alice (Ashley Greene), wearing sky-high heels and a bias-draped satin dress that golden-age Hollywood costumier to the stars Edith Head would have approved. (Oh, that deeply plunging back, with its fetishistic row of tiny buttons and the demure mesh panel that guards against inadvertent back cleavage!) It's not that Bella has cold feet, mind you, just that she's more a jeans-and-sneakers girl…though there was that bad dream in which she and her pallid groom were standing on a pile of bloody corpses.

Edward, for his part, feels compelled to bare his darkest secrets to Bella before they tie the knot. He wasn't always the "Just say no" to bloodlust exemplar she knows and loves, he confides. Once upon a time, when he was young and rebellious, Edward was very, very bad, slaking his desire for blood like any other undead fiend. Well, not quite: He was actually the Dexter Morgan of vampires, killing only rapists and murders. "You probably saved more lives than you took," simpers Bella with the exquisitely shallow logic of the young and besotted, and that's all there is to say about that.

In any event, the wedding goes off flawlessly—except for bit of inevitable vampire-werewolf tension—and the bride and groom jet off to Brazil for their honeymoon. And that's where the trouble starts. Since Bella wants to enjoy being human just a little longer before joining the ranks of the undead (she is sufficiently young that even her best friend speculates that there must have been a shotgun somewhere in the wedding equation—why else would anyone get married in this day and age at 18?), poor Edward, whose skimmed-milk complexion seems even greyer in the South American moonlight, must continue to rein his passionate desires for fear of hurting her. (A word to the wise: Refrain from blue-balls jokes unless you're certain there are no Twihards within hearing distance; they don't take kindly to sniggering about the magnificent river of self-sacrificing tears on which Bella and Edward's relationship is drenched.)

Needless to say, the young not-quite-lovers inevitably cave to nature's demands and Bella becomes pregnant with a half-vampire child, an event unprecedented in the Twilight universe's supernatural canon, and even the best efforts of Edward's principled, compassionate doctor dad (Peter Facinelli) don't add up to much: Bella's pregnancy may well be the death of her, a death she's willing to embrace but that may shatter the fragile treaty between werewolves and vampires.

It goes without saying that this is silly stuff played for maximum solemnity, because that's the Twilight series in a nutshell. You either love it with every fiber of your being or dismiss it as pathetic pap for simpering virgins. But again, like the Harry Potter series, the Twilight saga is both self-contained and self-perpetuating. If it plucks your most sensitive nerve, you're in, and if it doesn't, you're doomed to be perpetually on the outside.