I have a confession. I liked Twilight.
It was not a perfect book or movie, but what it did really, really well was appeal to my inner teenage girl—this creature that still resides deep within me, buried underneath all these intellectual thoughts and theories of stories, that just likes what she likes. The writer part may gnash my teeth at the poorly paced romance, but the teenage girl side loves the thought of a beautiful guy stopping a car with his bare hands to save me.
When the studios got their hands on Beautiful Creatures, they all but announced that they were hoping for the “next Twilight.” A $9 million opening weekend and $19 million domestic total made it clear they didn’t succeed. Thanks to Netflix, I finally got the chance to watch the movie and after the credits scrolled I was dumbstruck with confusion. “Who was this movie made for?” I asked myself out loud.
To me it seemed like the studio heads heard the very loud, mostly male complaints about the Twilight films and decided to correct them. “This film has something for both men and women,” they tried to say. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, it appeals to neither. The premise and genre of the movie was always going to be a tough sell to males, but the changes pretty much destroyed any fun the teenage girl side of me might have had.
Whose Story Is It?
In Twilight, Edward (and later Jacob) is the one that the girls froth over, but the story belongs to Bella. Bella is boring. The actress is often criticized for being twitchy and wooden; the character is criticized for being a poor role model for girls. No one needs Bella.
But it is her story.
No matter how poorly constructed the character may be, it matters that the person in the center of this fantasy romance is female. The first name that scrolls in the movie is Kristen Stewart. The opening narration we hear comes from Bella’s mouth. Because most of the audience members are girls, she serves as their avatar. It is easy for us to step into her skin and feel what she feels. The teenage girl side of me vividly remembers what it feels like to yearn after the cool, good-looking guy who seems so entirely out of your league.
In Beautiful Creatures, the main character is Ethan. Alden Ehrenreich is first billed, first to speak. And while I relate to him as far his ambitions go (wanting to get away from a small town), it is harder for me to put myself in his skin in the romantic department. His story is about chasing and later saving this beautiful but misunderstood girl. Although I can relate on an intellectual level, it does not strike any chords. Chasing and yearning are entirely different things.
Chasing is seen as better. It is more proactive and masculine. Yearning, waiting, sitting still and feeling—these are all undesirable. They’re too feminine. Yet that is why it appeals to the teenage girl side of me. That part of me knows what it feels like to hope to be noticed. That part of me wants to sit and feel, not leap up and run.
Bella got this side of me. Ethan didn’t.
Of course, there is a girl in Beautiful Creatures. Her name is Lena, and if I wanted someone to sit and do nothing, well, she should be it. In a reversal of the Twilight novels/ movies, it is the girl who has the magic, the money, and all the angst. In theory, I should be able to relate to her or at least enjoy being the one with all the cool stuff, right?
No. Lena is boring.
She’s worse than Bella.
Say what you will about Bella, she knew what she wanted and she took action to get it. And this, when you think about it, is the essence of characterization. To want something so badly, you’ll take any risk to get it.
Lena didn’t really want anything.
She claimed to love Ethan, but loving and wanting are two different things. Ethan’s persistence and her loneliness wore her down until they were a couple—but she certainly didn’t care about keeping him. In the movie, she gave him amnesia to push him out of her life, arguably to keep him out of danger. Once the danger was past, however, she did nothing to bring him back in. Her love for him may have been strong, but her desire was non-existent.
To clarify a previous point: when my inner teenage girl wants to sit around and feel, she: A. wants to feel!!! and B. eventually she wants the character to do something about it.
In the Twilight series, the relationship of Bella and Edward was criticized because, let’s face it, they were co-dependent and acted like idiots, especially in New Moon, which I personally hated. But they both wanted each other, they had passion, and that gave the story a soapy, but fun feel. You can’t have that if one character doesn’t want anything. Love is not the same. Love is a warm blanket. Desire is a roller coaster.
Where are the Hot Men at?
Speaking of desire, you know what is a really, really cheap way of getting my inner teenage girl’s attention. Throw in a hot guy. That will at least perk me up, even while the intellectual side of me blushes in shame at such lowly behavior.
Here’s the problem: I don’t find Ethan hot.
It’s not that Alden Ehrenreich is unattractive or a bad actor or anything like that. He gives the character a lively charm. In real life, the character would be very good boyfriend material. Ethan is nice, cheerful, and relatable.
Which is sort of the problem.
Relatable is not the same as hot.
Relatable is feeling awkward as you find yourself unexpectedly sitting at a fancy dinner in your dirty sweats. Hot is being so gorgeous everyone stops to stare as you enter the cafeteria. Relatable is reading the banned books at the library. Hot is being able to compose and play songs on the piano. Relatable is fearing that you’ll end up stuck in a small town your whole life. Hot is fearing that you’ll accidentally murder the love of your life in a moment of temptation.
Relatable is normal. Hot is exaggerated.
I like exaggerated.
It’s all subjective, of course. Honestly, despite the fact that Edward is “hot,” I never felt any need to gush over him, because the character is rather shallow. But the teenage girl part of me is also shallow and likes shiny things. She likes the idea of Edward, and that’s enough.
Heck, it doesn’t even have to be the main character whose “hot.” Twilight had a large cast of attractive males, so that if you didn’t like Edward, you could glomp onto any of them. However, Beautiful Creatures only really offered my inner teen girl Ethan, and she was not interested in him.
What Does This Matter?
The thing is, when I watch movies, it is usually as an adult woman, who also happens to be a fantasy writer. Fundamentally, I want a good story. Even as a teenage girl, I wanted a good story, and I didn’t really care if the main character was a guy or whether or not he was “hot.” I gritted my teeth at portrayals of lovesick teenage girls and soapy romances.
Beautiful Creatures did not tell a good story.
The world-building was jarring, the characters were unremarkable, the pacing was slow, the exposition was oh-so confusing, the plot was illogical, and the Southern accents were terrible. Ultimately, it wasn’t good, and it wasn’t even fun.
Maybe it would have been fun if it had some of those guilty pleasures attached to it.
But trying to make it less “guilt” sucked the pleasure right out.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.