First off you’re probably wondering: wtf is PW doing at the movies? It’s a fair question. We’re book people, after all. But, as you know, books are sometimes made into movies. So, when possible—i.e. when time and free screening passes allow—we’ll be giving you our take on big screen literary adaptations. This week’s offering is Twelve, which is based on Nick McDonell’s 2002 novel of the same name. Our reviewers are senior news editor Rachel Deahl and online reviews editor Mike Harvkey.
Rachel: I convinced Mike to see this with me on what he claimed was a thin selling point—Chace Crawford. Although Mike claimed he didn’t know who the dreamy star of Gossip Girl even was, I assumed Crawford’s awesome hair and sweetly blank face would be enough to win anyone over. Not so much. As White Mike, a recent high school grad struggling with the untimely death of his mother, Crawford roams the Upper East Side selling pot to his rich former classmates. As on GG, Crawford mostly stands around, with the same facial expression, looking pretty. You’d think given the constant of the Upper East Side locale then, that Twelve might feel like a modestly enjoyable episode of GG, albeit a slightly longer one. But, no. There’s no Blair, no Chuck, no Serena and, worst of all, no yuks. Twelve takes itself very seriously.
The first bad sign was the voiceover. By and large I think voiceovers in movies are a really, really bad idea. The voiceover here is no exception. (Kiefer Sutherland, un-credited, is, we believe, the narrator.) Sutherland basically chimes in every now and then to speak the obvious motives and feelings of Mike, and the characters circling him.
As for those characters, um, hmmm. Twelve seems to operate from the bizarre premise that it’s shocking and/or mildly interesting that there are self-absorbed kids on the Upper East Side with self-absorbed absent parents, and those kids do drugs, have sex and act out in dangerous ways. And, I suppose, if you’ve never heard of Bret Easton Ellis, reality TV or YA literature, you might be shocked by Twelve…or at least slightly amused by it.
Now that I think about it, if you want to see a heartfelt movie about a high school pot dealer, you’d be better off checking out The Wackness.
Highlights: Ellen Barkin’s ever-so-brief appearance as the mom of one of the drug-addled teens; that kid from NYC Prep‘s so-ridiculous-it’s-kind-of-awesome cameo
Lowlights: Everthing else
Mike: I was intrigued by Twelve less because of the story around the book (child writer, blah blah) than by the fact that this was a Joel Schumacher joint. I have an intimate relationship with Mr. Schumacher. In many ways I came of age with the man. The Lost Boys, though a fine wedge of stinky cheese now, was in 1987 the coolest thing ever to hit the shimmering screen. And St. Elmo’s Fire was nothing to sneeze at. And if you do sneeze, don’t do it on the blow. The man had an eye for the up-and-comer, which is as much a talent as, say, costume design (Schumacher’s first costuming gig was on Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, for what it’s worth). The ‘80s were pretty good to Schumacher. The same can not be said, sadly, of the roaring ‘90s. The decade found Schumacher killing a highly lucrative comic book brand, trapping Colin Farrell in a phone booth for two hours without a single woman, and driving Jim Carrey, and everyone in the theater, insane.
So I admit that I approached our noon screening (a little marketing synchronicity for ya) expecting something pretty dreadful. A train wreck, a jumble, a major act of confusion. And Joel Schumacher did not disappoint. As Rachel notes, the film is so leaden with voice over that it plays more like an enhanced e-book. Seriously. This thing will kill on the iPad, where the Marlboro-throated narration, whole chunky ham-fisted paragraphs of it, won’t be so startling. Just when you forget that Kiefer is lurking off-screen with a smoldering butt, there he is again. “White Mike,” he tells us as soon as the handsome but bland Chace Crawford appears, “is thin and pale as smoke.” Uh, yeah. I can see him right there. “White Mike wears jeans and a hooded sweatshirt.” You mean like the jeans and the hooded sweatshirt Crawford’s wearing right up there on that big huge screen? “White Mike is clean.” I’ll take your word for it. And blah blah blah blah blah! On it goes, like an enhanced interrogation technique. I suppose there could be an argument here that Schumacher is ahead of his time, nailing the exact bull’s eye center of the zeitgeist. Perhaps in ten years people will say that he created an exciting new form with Twelve, not a book exactly, and certainly not a movie; a boovie. A mük.
And perhaps it’s nostalgia, but that gift Schumacher seemed to have in his earlier years for spotting talent seems to have left him. The cast of St. Elmo’s Fire was a who’s-who of Brat Pack elite. Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson. The Lost Boys put Jason Patrick, the Coreys, and Kiefer Sutherland in vampire rock star getup when most Twi-hards were just sparkling little itches in their daddy’s Tuffskins. Sure a lot of those actors are now in rehab, or worst, but they ruled the industry for a decade. Twelve stars a handsome black hole who looks really good brooding, a hard-working Culkin boy, 50 Cent, Emma Roberts, who looks really good pouting, and some guy from reality TV. I don’t think that this group of youngsters will dominate the industry in ten years’ time. But maybe that’s just me.
Lastly, I’d like to say that adapting a book to the screen is hard work, and ultimately a fool’s pursuit, as proven by the many filmmakers over the last hundred plus years who have undertaken this challenge only to displease two different groups of fan. Those who love the book feel betrayed by the omissions and truncations. Those with no prior knowledge of the source material sit in the dark feeling bored by the filmmaker’s inability to make a film that stands on its own merits. Stanley Kubrick was that rare artist who, some say, treated the books he based many of his films on with something bordering on contempt. He ignored the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange, for instance. And he treated the authors he worked with no better. Jim Thompson was so incensed over Kubrick’s lack of respect for his efforts on The Killing (he was given an “Additional Dialogue by” credit) that he stormed out of the premiere, only to crawl back under Stanley’s porch like a sad mangy puppy who thinks it needs another whack on the nose. But A Clockwork Orange is a movie, damn it. It plays by its own rules. It’s beholden to no book. Kubrick aside, most filmmakers who adapt books have the opposite problem. They love the book too much. Which makes sense; that love is what made them want to adapt it in the first place. But films are films and books are books. Each has its own mechanism. Schumacher loved Twelve so much it’s a wonder the thing’s not pregnant.