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What to See – Twilight

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There’s a lot riding on Twilight, the big-screen adaptation of the opening volume in Stephenie Meyer’s series about an average teen who falls for the vampire boy-next-door. Summit Entertainment is aiming the film like an arrow at the demographic place where Harry Potter and Hot Topic meet, at the yearning hearts of young men and women with a taste for the supernatural, a weakness for the romantic, and the propensity to put on a touch too much eye shadow. Twilight could have been a fairly clumsy movie, a vehicle intended to turn book-buyers into ticket-purchasers and nothing else. And while the movie does have its flaws, director Catherine Hardwicke got one thing perfectly right: She cast Kristen Stewart ( Panic Room , Into the Wild ) as Bella, the story’s heroine.

And it couldn’t have been an easy task casting the role. Bella’s the narrator of Twilight, but she doesn’t drive the story in the same way that hunky vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) does. Stewart has said that for her, shooting Twilight felt like working on an indie film, and in a way, that makes sense: Bella’s journey between her separated mom and dad, her uncertainty at fitting in at a new school, her longing for something different she can’t quite name — are all set up, by Stewart and Hardwicke, as underplayed, naturalistic stuff. That’s why we’re pulled along so willingly when the vampires show up; we believe in Bella and what she’s experiencing.

But even after the plot goes supernatural, Stewart keeps things so superbly natural that you can’t take your eyes off of her. Late in the movie, as Bella goes on the run to escape a vicious vampire obsessed with killing her, she drives by the local diner where her human friends — the mortal ones — are leaving, laughing, doing regular teen stuff, none of which includes running from a killer. Stewart looks at those kids — the normal ones — with such a sad, scared sense of longing on her face, it sells you the moment wholly and completely.

There are things to quibble about in Twilight — the special effects look like special effects, and Pattinson, who plays Edward, is a charming and funny actor who’s not given much chance to be either amid all the brooding and posing. Even so, if one thing makes Twilight watching, it’s Stewart’s quietly assured performance. When later books in Meyer’s series come to the big screen, whichever director gets the job will be very, very lucky to have an actress Stewart. (To read more about teen vampires in the movies, click here.)

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