New Moon is no Romeo + Juliet but it’s still teenage fun
You might find this hard to believe because I’m such a classy, dignified lady, but I was once a giggling teen with a major crush on a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Like so many girls (and some guys) of my generation, I was convinced that there was no greater heartthrob than Leo. Today, it seems the hottie du jour is everyone’s favorite sparkly vampire, Robert Pattinson.
Before Twilight, and its sequel New Moon, there was William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann. That film began the Reign of Leo as the be-all end-all sexy icon of young Hollywood. Like Twilight, it wove age-old themes of first love, societal restrictions and sorrow caused by violence with good-looking actors and cool contemporary music.
It’s only fitting that New Moon constantly references Shakespeare’s timeless tale of star-crossed lovers when continuing the story of plain-jane Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her immortal love Edward Cullen (Pattinson). This film sees the couple put to the test when their two worlds seem at odds. Bella is a human who dreads turning 18 because it symbolizes that pesky mortality that will surely keep her from spending an eternity with her immortal vampire boyfriend. Edward fears for Bella’s safety, knowing how irresistible fresh human blood is to his kind and, in usual cruel-to-be-kind fashion, tries to drive her away in an effort to protect her. After he splits, she starts spending time with another supernatural hottie, the werewolf Jacob Black, played by an insanely ripped Taylor Lautner. Bella is at a crossroads. Should she date the teen wolf with the rock hard abs or the pale, brooding, vampire whose hotness seems to increase as he gets more morose?
Luhrmann’s film took place in a sort of alternate reality, a hyper-violent world that feels like a pop culture explosion. From gunfights to make out scenes, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet was grittier, more intense, and thus more genuine. Both Claire Danes as Juliet and DiCaprio brought such true emotion to the roles that it wasn’t difficult to believe them as the doomed pair. When Romeo walks into the church to see the love of his life lying dead, you feel the heartbreak. When Juliet wakes up to see that Romeo drank the poison, the despair is genuine and powerful. The Twilight saga lacks the emotional gravity of R+J and the stakes just don’t seem very high.
It’s interesting to think that both films carry the PG-13 rating when Twilight seems so watered down. Bella and Edward don’t kiss as much as just press their foreheads together and, despite Stewart and Pattinson being a real life couple, they don’t seem to have all that much chemistry. When Edward breaks up with Bella in the woods, causing her to have a complete mental breakdown, you can’t help but think, “Get over it!” When Bella starts to fall for her muscled young friend Jacob, you can’t help but want to yell, “Enough of this hovering two inches away from each other! Just kiss him already!” In trying to make the film more G-rated and accessible for younger audiences, they seem to have taken away the kind of passion that would actually make viewers believe in the internal struggle facing the main characters. Instead of star-crossed lovers, they seem like emo teenagers taking their first big romance way too seriously.
Other themes seem downright weird. The message that if the boy you really love breaks up with you, you should just do as much reckless and suicidal stuff as possible is a concern as is the theory that you should occupy your time by stringing another boy along while you plan a way to get back with your ex. Certainly those aren’t good actions to take in any situation, even if you happen to be surrounded by vampires and werewolves. The thinly veiled metaphor that weaves becoming a vampire with losing virginity is exactly the kind of thing Trey Parker and Matt Stone made fun of in their Jonas Brothers parody episode of South Park. These films have devised an ingenious method for selling sex to tweens in a way that their parent’s don’t find offensive.
Now, none of this is to say that Twilight and New Moon are bad films. Some of the more film geek elements, like art direction or cinematography, work well and conjure up the same tone of Stephenie Meyer’s writing. Taking a classic love story and throwing in supernatural elements is interesting and the films are generally fun to watch. The Twilight saga lacks the intensity of Romeo + Juliet because that’s not what it’s going for. It’s not a film where you’re going to see Oscar-worthy performances or hear unique, expressive dialogue, but it is a fun film to see with your girlfriends and ogle good-looking guys with their shirts off.