So now might be time to relinquish my right to continue as a bear wrestling, hairy chested, card carrying male. I unapologetically enjoyed New Moon… all in spite of itself.
Qualified: “enjoyed” doesn’t mean squealing, wooing, heart-stopping delight, but rather pleasant surprise at Chris Weitz’ relatively true handle on overwrought teen angst and the brief action beats that break it up. In short, Weitz directs a film that, despite a ploddingly joyless eternal love between vampire Edward and heroine Bella (one that thankfully gets a breather for most of the movie), moves with enough humor, mild danger and character exposition to deepen and enliven a relatively shallow story.
New Moon continues the inexplicable love affair* between a 100+ year old vampire and 17 year old girl, as Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattison) grimace and mope mushy one-liners back and forth while arguing over whether or not Bella should become a vampire. If love is as painful as Bella and Edward make it look, love blows.
Conflict! After a birthday party mishap, Edward uncharacteristically tells Bella she sucks and he’s hitting the road for her own good. Bella, already an emotionally roiling kettle of bleary eyed stares, obsessive attachment and smile hating, descends into a love-coma and gives her friends, Dad, food and life the bird. When Bella does get back into the business of living without “Paley Von Palenheimer”, she finds Edward’s “ghost” appears whenever danger is near. Desperate for a daily hit off the Edward crack pipe, Bella gets crazy with stuff like cliff jumping and repairing motorcycles. The motorcycle time puts Bella in touch with her gearhead Native-American –and werewolf!– pal Jacob (Taylor Lautner). As the rule goes, when you’re not near the one you love, selfishly cling to the one you’re near.
In the mean time, Jacob’s werewolf brethren feistily roam the forest chasing fire-haired Victoria, who’s stalking Bella to avenge her Man from the previous movie. This leads to a Romeo and Juliet twist of fate as Edward tries to snuff his sparkle in Italy. Apparently, that involves turning into stone and being snapped apart by the Volturi– a ruling vampire clan lead by Aro (played fop-hammy by a stalwart Michael Sheen). Of course, if you’re a Twilight fan, you know how all this goes down. If you’re not… do you care?
Astonishingly, yes. But not for any obvious reason: the dour Edward and depressed Bella relationship is an absolute bore. Their melodramatics reach forehead-smacking heights (or lows), but looking back to my years of teen love/angst, I’m equally embarrassed and inclined to give their sap a pass. Teen love is never rational- it’s ridiculous, clumsy, intense and stocked with thirteen zesty flavors of cheese. Still, the two experience a world with no fun in sight– and that’s wearying.
Where New Moon does stoke interest is in the developing relationship between Bella and Jacob, who totally thinks shirts are overrated and runs around without one through most of the movie. The choice has something to do with werewolf bio-thermal something or other, but the girls in the audience didn’t care. The dude’s as shredded as Iraq War documents. It’s here the weightlifting werewolf and the world’s worst guy picker actually build something meaningful. Sadly, when Edward comes back into the scene much later in the film, it’s a letdown, even amidst a tantalizing look at the evil Volturi and Dakota Fanning making a brief appearance as Jane– a vampire who enjoys bringing the pain.
It’s no secret that Twilight is all about head-scratching, lady-pleasing melodrama. The New Moon story, book ended with anti-drama and stuffed with a rambling middle, is one where melodrama abounds. Still, Chris Weitz uses a steady hand to navigate without spilling the audience overboard into anything too eyeball-rollingly absurd. The movie excels with some well crafted scenes, particularly Bella’s angsty wait and decent into an unflattering ball of depression as played out over the course of three months in front of her window. A werewolf fight and a forest chase against an intentionally obscured Victoria (who will be replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard in Eclipse) are exciting, weighty and, briefly, creepy.
In a feat I attribute to Weitz and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, my primed New Moon boredom alarm stayed silent, despite the material’s intense attempt to set it off. With an expectation of at least meeting its predecessor Twilight in quality, New Moon succeeds and slightly surpasses. Mythology is fleshed out and given darker areas to explore while periphery characters are given some room to move around.
New Moon will take some severe critical beatings, but I wonder if it’s based more on fighting to maintain critical predisposition instead of simply taking the film at its shallow face value. That may put me in the minority and justify forfeiting my Man Club card, but at least after declaring allegiance to Team Jacob and hanging out with a weightlifting werewolf, I’d be doing it with burly gusto.
*I don’t get the Edward Bella romance as played out in these movies. I’m sure there’s a Vanity store full of reasons laid out in the book, but a film should work on its own merits, not on the ethereal pages and internal monologues its audience may or may not be aware of.