Bella Swan

Photo Credit: Anne Katrine Harris | Daily Texan Staff

In the age of the “Twilight” phenomenon, the case has been made plenty of times that Bella Swan is not a feminist. She is a terrible role model for young girls. Her relationship with Edward is borderline abusive. We’ve thrown all the punches at poor Bella.

But in the final installment of the “Twilight” films, “Breaking Dawn - Part 2,” we finally see Bella at her least helpless. Granted, she’s given up a beating heart to get where she is.

In the first three movies, Bella is often forced into these anti-feminist situations. When Edward leaves her, Bella goes into a catatonic state. She literally cannot function without his stalker tendencies and smothering protectiveness. When vampires come to kill her, Jacob must carry her up a mountain so that her scent can’t be traced. Forced cuddling follows so that she doesn’t die of frostbite. In the first three movies, Bella rarely makes her own decisions, and when she does they are often self-sacrificing to save one of the two men/creatures in their freaky love triangle.

But “Breaking Dawn - Part 2” has a new flavor. Bella actually says, “I was born to be a vampire,” which, despite being a terrible line, really conveys how she behaves in this movie. She’s comfortable in her own skin, sits up straight, blinks a normal amount and makes some of her own decisions. We see her arm wrestling with Emmett, conditioning her shield power to protect her family and running errands by herself, which seemed so strange because she has almost never had a scene alone until now. Seriously, Edward broke into her house to watch her sleep back in the day.

I think the list of feminist grievances and Bella’s eventual self-actualization probably cancel each other out. She is not the best “feminist role model.” But there are not a lot of leading ladies right now. Katniss Everdeen from the “Hunger Games” may be Bella’s closest competition. We’ve just come out of our “Harry Potter” daze and there seems to be a new superhero movie every month, none of which give young girls and women someone to look to as a “feminist role model.” 

Here we reach the crux of the problem. Yes, I can watch “Girls” on HBO GO, read Jezebel and develop my own conclusions about women in the media as a 20-something young woman. But when I was 13, I gobbled “Twilight” up. I had a subscription to Seventeen that told me to buy a hair product (that I still have) because boys liked the way it smelled. When you are a young girl, you don’t make a huge effort to look beyond what’s popular, what’s right in front of you at Barnes & Noble, playing on the big screen or what’s being discussed during dance team practice.

So if we are giving impressionable young girls only two choices for a feminist role model, and Bella is one of them, clearly this is a problem beyond “Twilight,” Kristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyers.

Printed on Friday, November 16, 2012 as: Bella falls short as feminist heroine 

Kristyn Chambers hugs a life-sized cutout of Twilight character Jasper Hale Thursday night in the IPIS theater at the Domain in North Austin. A watching party was hosted by local fan club Austin Twilight Moms before the midnight premier of the latest installment in the vampire-werewolf saga, “Breaking Dawn Part I.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

It is a little off-putting to most people at first, the idea of moms obsessing over a teenage romance novel. But with Edward Cullen’s golden eyes and chivalrous gestures, he can be irresistible even to the strictest of mothers.

The Twilight Saga,” by Stephenie Meyer, is a four-part series about a forbidden romance. The hero of the story, Edward Cullen, just so happens to be a devastatingly handsome vampire in love with an average human girl named Bella Swan. While he constantly wants to drink her blood and is actually forbidden to tell her his true identity, their love overcomes all. The four novels tell of their struggles and journey together.

The best-selling books have since been adapted into films and the latest, “Breaking Dawn Part I,” opened today at midnight. While the novels and movies are marketed to a teen girl audience, the appeal has spread to include their mothers.

“Being older, we had real life experiences to relate to the feelings we had about the book,” said Austin Twilight Moms member Candace Wheeler. “I read ‘Twilight’ in one day, a Monday. I felt like I had to know what’s next. It was a need.”

Fan club Austin Twilight Moms met through the website twilightmoms.com after realizing there was a large group of mother “Twilight” fans in Central Texas. They now host premiere parties for the movies, DVD release parties and other lunch and dinner dates for occasions such as Bella’s Birthday. The group has also started raising money for charities such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which benefits childhood cancer research.

“I know people roll their eyes and snicker about those creepy Twilight Moms,” Wheeler said. “But have you helped a soldier today or raised money for a children’s cancer research group? And taken three kids to school.”

The moms are aware of the stereotypes out there, but it does not seem to bother them all that much. The moms are of all ages, from 20s to 50s, and their professions range from teacher to nurse or doctor. Some of the members are not even mothers, just older than the typical teenage “Twilight” fan.

“Most people think Twilight Moms are middle-aged women who are stay-at-home moms trying to relive the past or recapture their youth,” said April Cleaver. “People think we tend to be pretty aggressive, at least when it comes to the stars of the movies and there are some of those.”

Cleaver is one of the members of the group who is not a mom, but “just a grown up.” She works as a controller at The Blood Center in Austin and began reading “Twilight” after her boss encouraged her to do so. She became “infected” after just three chapters of the first book, she said.

“Bella is the every girl, so she reminded me a lot of me when I was that age,” Cleaver said. “And it reminded me of when I first got married and I’ve been married 27 years. It brought back all of that new love, which was fun.”

Jillian Cooper, a project manager at Cisco, has been a member of the group since 2009. She read the books after the second “Twilight” movie, “New Moon,” sparked her curiosity. The love story of Edward and Bella captured her attention and also brought a new dynamic to her own relationship.

“It led to me seeing our relationship differently, what I expected and what I wanted out of things,” Cooper said. “My husband and I both understood that protective nature [of Edward] and the need to do anything for the other person.”

The Twilight Moms group has even helped some mothers rediscover their sense of self, that they are someone beyond just a ride to dance practice or Boy Scouts.

“It’s helped my to see the importance in developing myself as a person,” Wheeler said. “I didn’t pay attention to music, movies or have hobbies or girlfriends. I didn’t do things for me and it made me happy to do something again.”

Printed on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: 'Twilight' saga inspires local moms

Review

(Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment)

After three films, there is no middle ground for the “Twilight” franchise — you’re either Team Edward or Team Jacob. The first film was a hilariously awful disaster, and things have been ever-so-slowly improving with each consecutive film, but the “Twilight” franchise remains saddled by its overwrought source material and weak principal actors.

While “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn” is full of potential for campy ridiculousness, the decision to split the film in two makes for a slog of a film that’s a distinct step down from the very nearly passable “Eclipse.”

Picking up where “Eclipse” left off, “Breaking Dawn” starts with the elaborate wedding of Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson), and quickly moves into their honeymoon. After an extremely carefully shot sex scene (after all, a little side-boob could forever scar the malleable young minds who are busy swooning over a 108-year-old soulless monster), Bella finds herself pregnant with a creature of indeterminate origin.

Easily the greatest weakness of the “Twilight” series is its main characters and the unfortunate souls tasked with portraying them. Kristen Stewart has done her best to inhabit Bella Swan, a character that’s essentially a blank slate (and has done good work in other films), but the film’s attempt to have her play seductive — or, really, anything but angsty, — fail miserably.

The two romantic leads haven’t fared any better as the series has developed. Pattinson has always been “Twilight’”s weakest link and here, he’s characteristically stiff and mopey to a fault, bringing little personality or charm to a cardboard cut-out character. Meanwhile Taylor Lautner, probably the best of the main three, brings a tiny bit of likability to the similarly starchy role of Jacob, but still crumbles under the weight of his character’s dramatic arc.

Splitting a book that would have been insipid but entertaining in one breakneck rollercoaster ride of a film into two prolonged installments proves to be a fatal mistake, especially when this film seems to conclude Bella and Edward’s story rather definitively — that is, until a mid-credits one-off creates a new conflict for the next installment. If there wasn’t a second part already announced, it would be easy to close the proverbial book on the “Twilight” franchise with the last shot here.

Instead, the first half of “Breaking Dawn” is a mess of a film, all too happy in allowing itself to get bogged down in flat dramatic tension. Much of the film’s back half centers on Lautner and his werewolf tribe — thankfully more clothed and looking much less like the Village People than they have in previous films — struggling to decide how to proceed with the issue of Edward and Bella’s procreation, and just as the film reaches its tepid climax, the conflict is explained away via the arbitrary invention of a rule that just so happens to render the battle null and void.

“Twilight” films don’t all have to be disasters. Director Bill Condon’s restraint here proves to be the biggest of “Breaking Dawn’s” many flaws, never clearer than in the many scenes Edward is fully in view of the sun but there’s nary a sparkle to be found. What is a “Twilight” film without sparkling vampires, campy performances and situations, and boatloads of hilarity? More than anything else, it’s boring, and that makes for a truly disappointing addition to the series.

Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 as: Fourth installment lacks character development