Pardon my priorities. Now that Alain Resnais has been addressed in timely fashion, I am able to double-back and attend to a matter of greater public concern. Tens if not dozens of readers will have been awaiting my word on Eclipse, the third installment in the Twilight “saga,” with its new director, David Slade, not to say new blood, only recirculated blood. My word is this: surrender. As in, I submit, I yield, I buckle, I cry uncle.
The absurdity of the situation, not altogether apparent until installment two, has little by little insinuated itself into an accepted way of life, and there would be no more use in railing against it than against, say, the two or three or four ego-clashing studio logos that now precede every movie you see, or the five, six, seven minutes of picayune credits that conclude each one. That’s how it is. Get used to it. Just to recap: a perfectly ordinary, though cosmetically polished-up, teenage girl in rural Washington, adored equally, competitively, jealously by an eternally teenage “vegetarian” vampire (i.e., non-people drinking) and by a temporarily teenage wolfman, or wolfboy, who eats only dead meat (i.e., vampires, not humans). These two suitors offer their mutual inamorata all the glamour of the outlaw minus any risky lawbreaking, all the aura of danger without the actuality of danger: dream lovers par excellence. The flattery never lets up: Edward the yellow-eyed murmuring bloodsucker, third-generation progeny of James Dean, a respectful young gentleman of the old school, refuses to deflower her, which in this case means take away her humanity in addition to her mere virginity, until after they are married — after, to be as considerate as possible, as concerned with things like education and personal development and self-determination, her high-school commencement; and Jacob the buff werewolf, till that fateful day, will not stop making his case to either Edward (“Let’s face it. I’m hotter than you”) or the beautiful Bella (“They’re not even alive!”). The ongoing grooming of Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner as poster boys to be pinned up in pink bedrooms across the land reminds the viewer continually, with pop songs chiming in on the soundtrack, that this “saga” is intended primarily if not exclusively for adolescent girls.
Maturer viewers might enjoy nodding sagely at the spectacle of a modern Everygirl, realistically played by Kristen Stewart, to whom you can’t, at that age, tell anything, and who won’t be warned off her heart’s desire by reason, wisdom, foresight, superior experience. And they might take a clinical interest in the mixed signals by which Bella keeps both fellas on the string. There is, as a sideshow, a subplot about a simmering skirmish between vampire clans (“Something terrible is coming”), owing to some unelucidated grudge against Bella that you’re supposed to recall from the previous installment, New Moon. (Even though it was barely more than half a year ago, I’m drawing a blank.) But the slaughterous subplot, with its tossed-off anticlimactic climax, plays strictly second fiddle to the romantic rivalry between Edward and Jacob, and in fact is of any interest whatsoever only for the additional flattery to Bella. The two armies after all, like the two boys, are fighting over her. It is, as any identifying adolescent will instinctively and unquestioningly understand, all about her. Bella Swan of Forks, WA, center of the universe. In the final reckoning the film can best be enjoyed in the way you might enjoy looking at a teenage girl’s Facebook pages or her Twitter entries or, if anyone still keeps one, her dear diary. Best be enjoyed, to say it another way, as documentary evidence of what large numbers of teenage girls enjoy. To be sure, large numbers of teenage girls (not to tar them all with the same brush) will enjoy it in a less detached and dispassionate way.
Despicable Me, the latest computer cartoon, has a vital role to play, that of hastening the day when the 3-D scam will have been exposed for what it is and the public will no longer deem the difference from 2-D as worth an added four dollars for the glasses. The scales will have fallen from their eyes, or more literally the shades will have fallen, and along with them the darkening and dulling of the color. Admittedly the Universal logo, our planet on a blanket of stars, looks good in 3-D, and the closing credits have some fun with the extra dimension, trying with the aid of an outthrusting steel tape measure to see how far off the screen the image can jump. If the whole film were as in-your-face as that, the four dollars would have been well spent, but the tape measure measures nothing so much as the nonaggression, the impassivity, of the rest of the film. The premise represents the very depth of inspiration: an ineffectual arch villain (a lugubrious Gorey-esque figure whose head levels off at the eyebrows, a penguin torso atop ostrich legs, a twelve-foot muffler wound around his neck), his workshop of elfish helpers in the thimble shape of Pac-Man monsters, a younger and goonier rival villain in a bowl haircut and square-rimmed glasses, and three too-cute orphans who change the course of criminality. The noisy musical score strives to make the action seem more rousing than it is, and the amusing Slavic accents of Steve Carell and Julie Andrews (as the principal villain’s withholding mother) make up to some extent for deficiencies in the dialogue. Kristen Wiig’s churchy Southern accent adds something, too, to the stereotypical cruel directress of Miss Hattie’s Home for Girls.
The Kids Are All Right, something for the grown-ups, is a carefully drawn family portrait in a rough, grainy, indifferent image, a “nontraditional” family let’s swiftly say: two lesbian “Moms” or “Momses” with a biological son and daughter old enough to be curious as to the identity of their sperm-donor dad, who turns out to be a health-food restaurateur and organic gardener stuck in a sort of Sixties time warp: “Right on, right on. Cool. I love lesbians.” There is perhaps a whiff of self-consciousness in the initial laying-out of the family dynamic, but that’s not as egregious as the audience-consciousness of the plotty pot-stirring, the salacious lip-smacking, whereby the same-sex parents worry about the company their son keeps and wonder whether he’s gay, and whereby, much worse, one of them succumbs to heterosexual temptation with, of all people, the laid-back sperm donor. All of the characters are nevertheless human and likable, even the one, believe it or not, played by Mark Ruffalo, even the teenagers, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson. Director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko shows a keen ear for modern talk and vogue vocabulary (“eco-friendly,” “micromanaging,” “counterintuitive,” “composting,” “heirloom tomatoes,” “acai,” etc.), and, assuming she knows what she’s talking about, it’s educational to learn why a lesbian couple would keep handy a DVD of gay male porn. Then too, whatever the contrivances, we get to watch two supremely skilled actresses at work, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. The first one, with her short hair and sharp tongue (“I need your observations like I need a dick in my ass”), her eloquent looks of consternation when words fail, her defensive fondness for wine and resistance to trends and fashion, her initial hostility to the male interloper and her moment of rapport with him over Joni Mitchell, gets the better of the competition. Partly that might be because she’s not the one required to play the sullying role of the switch-hitter. But only partly.
D.O.A.: Three Penny Cinema, bold, noble, hopeless attempt to resurrect the repertory, failed to achieve liftoff. Or rather, lifted off and then blew up before it achieved its flight path. There’s no pleasure in having one’s pessimism confirmed. Especially by a landslide. ■