Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 1.5 Stars
Bella Swan is a typical teenage girl, trying to fit in at a new school and navigating an awkward relationship with her father. She begins the film with an interesting transition to a small town, but the writers never give her much of a personality. She’s not a member of the drama club or the soccer team or any other extracurricular activities. She doesn’t seem passionate about anything or have any obvious academic goals. She is mostly a blank slate, whose story is dominated by her relationship with Edward.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
Edward is a perfect caricature of the dark, brooding stranger that captivates women in spite of his chilly demeanor. He’s a superior specimen of strength and speed, whose only weakness is his craving for human blood. But beneath the “monster” image that he conveys, there is a sincerity and gentleness to him. His superhuman nature allows him to express his softer emotions without any damage to his masculinity. In the end, Edward is an impossible act to follow in terms of his physicality, even if his sensitivity occasionally makes him seem frail and vulnerable.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
Bella is not only an empty character with no real passion or drive, but she's even a bit unfriendly. Despite this, she quickly draws friends at her new school, and somehow manages to get Edward to warm up to her without saying much. Since her only redeeming quality seems to be her pretty face, we’re left to conclude that this is the reason for her undeserved popularity.
Plot: 3 Stars
Bella is given very few opportunities to be the hero of her own story. She eagerly places herself in harm’s way, believing that Edward will continue to fight the urge to hurt her and protect her from any other danger that comes her way. She does earn some points for bravery, and for making the choice to pursue her feelings for Edward in spite of the obvious costs. But for the most part, Bella is little more than a traditional damsel in distress, reveling in the romance of being loved and rescued by someone far more powerful than herself.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Bella’s character is surprisingly flat considering the amount of screen time she’s given. She’s fallen in love with an immortal - someone who could easily take her human frailties from her and transform her into an immortal herself. But Bella doesn’t seem tempted by the idea of becoming swift and invincible. She never considers the appeal of living without fear or anxiety or vulnerability. She never questions whether she could give up her family and the simple joys of being human for what might turn into a monotonous and loathsome eternity. Her one and only interest in this film is Edward.
She does have an interesting family dynamic, and her short conversations with her father are some of the more interesting moments of the film. It’s unfortunate that the writers didn’t devote more time to building this relationship. Bella never expresses any guilt or remorse over all the years that have passed since she last saw her father - or indicates that getting to know him is part of the reason she chooses to stay in Forks. For all we know, her love for Edward is her only motivating factor.
Love: 1 Star
Bella and Edward share a strange, supernatural love that springs from only a few conversations. She does some minimal digging into his past, but never gets to the heart of why he considers himself a monster or what’s driven him to swear off human blood. She never learns anything about the pain of immortality from him, only a few basics on the physics of vampires. Conversely, Edward doesn’t bring out the best in her or encourage her to go after her dreams. They’re drawn together by some inexplicable connection that has no real foundation, and far too many complications that are never addressed.
Family: 3 Stars
Bella’s father Charlie is a respectful and responsible father that is struggling to rebuild his relationship with his distant daughter. He’s not over-protective or domineering. He isn’t angry or jealous over his ex-wife’s marriage. He is more insecure than anything, but clearly cares for his daughter and is giving her the time and space she needs to feel comfortable in her new home. Charlie’s relationship with Bella is easily the more realistic and relatable relationship in this film.
Unfortunately, Bella’s relationship with her mother falls into more stereotypical patterns. Her mother calls on occasion to see how Bella’s adapting to life in Forks, but doesn’t get many details about her new school or how she’s getting along with her father. The only time Bella's mother gets truly animated over the phone is at the prospect of “talking boys” with her young daughter.
Friendship: 1 Star
Bella’s friends from school, Jessica and Angela, are surprisingly pleasant young women. They are warm and welcoming to the new girl in school, without engaging in any pettiness or jealousy. Still, there isn’t much depth to these friendships. The girls discuss boys and dresses throughout the film, but spend little time on anything else.