I can’t help but feel sad at the news that Catherine Hardwicke’s been fired from directing the next installment of the Twilight franchise.
I disliked Twilight for a long, long list of reasons, and I’ll have to be paid well to bother seeing the sequel. But it’s not often that a female director scores a box office hit like this, and shouldn’t the studio show her some respect for giving them this year’s surprise blockbuster?
Having said that, while I feel bad for Hardwicke, I also think it’s probably for the best. Hardwicke proved herself a talented director with her debut film–Thirteen. Since then, she’s been attached to projects that did not suit the strengths she demonstrated in her first outing.
She clearly sought to bring some realism to The Nativity Story, and that was the best thing about the film. But the story of the Virgin’s pregnancy, the heavenly host, the star in the east, and the Christ Child in the manger should be a pageant that inspires awe, wonder, and hope… and that movie did not. It felt trapped between “gritty” authenticity and Hallmark-card imagery.
Twilight was a silly, forgettable project to begin with. Sure, Stephenie Myer’s story appeals to almost everybody one level: It appeals to our desire to be told that we’re special. Who doesn’t want to discover that, for their flaws, they might still be loved and cherished by someone extraordinary?
But Myer’s particular version of that fundamental fairy tale is grossly distorted. It gave Hardwicke very little chance of turning those two hours into anything more than adolescent wish-fulfillment, reinforcing the insecurities of awkward adolescents. (I’m grateful for Laura Miller’s article at Salon for shedding so much light on the Myer phenomenon. I’m also grateful for Steven D. Greydanus’s insightful examination, and Gina R. Dalfonzo’s piece in The National Review. And check out “How Twilight is Destroying America and Harming Our Nation’s Youth“, over at /FILM.)
It gave her an unremarkable paranormal romance with a maddening “heroine.” But wait… is Bella really a heroine? What does Bella ever do?
Imagine a revised Pride and Prejudice: This time Mr. Darcy chooses to pursue a girl who’s both sensationally glamorous and completely incapable of taking care of herself. He decides that she’s better than them all, but we see absolutely no evidence of why… unless we’re to assume that being hot has everything to do with being special. (Let’s face it: Bella is clearly the hottest girl in the school, but she’s just going to feel mopey and awkward and sorry for herself unless the school’s hottest boy validates her existence by desiring her above all else in the world.)
Just imagine if Mr. Darcy had decided to enable the heroine’s weaknesses by making all her decisions for her, taking her away from her family, and plunging her into moral danger. Imagine if he remained unconcerned about her obsession with him. Edward doesn’t do anything to help Bella grow and gain confidence. He just delivers her from one peril after another… perils that she never worried about before selling her soul to his reckless, self-absorbed pretty boy.
Meanwhile, all of those much more interesting characters in the background… characters who learn to cope, who take risks, who reach out to each other… they’re nowhere near as sexy, and ultimately they’re just not as special either. In this movie’s aesthetic, the couple that looks most like a Gap commercial are the pair who most deserve our sympathy and support — and Gap Boy saves Gap Girl by declaring her the hottest of them all. This film actually affirms that it’s not half-bad to yearn for the company of the coolest clique in school, and that if they accept you, life will be so much more exciting than it is for all of those boring, unfashionable classmates.
Now, if Edward and Bella became the villains in the sequel, I’d suddenly be a big fan.
But I’ve strayed from the point… which was this: Why waste Catherine Hardwicke’s talents on this?
The realism of Thirteen seemed like a perfect fit for Hardwicke. I completely believed in the relationship between Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood in that film. That was a movie that blazed with emotion and authenticity. And it might have even served as a meaningful challenge to mothers and daughters, encouraging them make better choices and forge stronger relationships.