Drumming up controversy citing everything from nepotism and name-drop favors to cribbing from the playbook of Bret Easton Ellis, even the most cynically snarky and scathingly snide press surrounding the 2002 publication of seventeen-year-old Nick McDonnell's debut novel Twelve couldn't detract from the fact that underneath all of the mudslinging, the kid had written a damn good book.
Therefore, eight years after the novel became a whirlwind bestseller, it's both a blessing and a curse that filmmaker Joel Schumacher has seen fit to release an abysmally awful adaptation of Twelve.
Namely, with ever-changing attitudes and appetites for popular culture, time has a way of leveling the playing field and putting distance between controversies as well as sour grapes inspired press.
Had Schumacher's utterly vapid cinematic exploration of pretty, popular and privileged teens spending their winter break escaping high society by getting high on drugs, sex, danger or violence been released right around the time Twelve arrived in print, McDonnell's future as a writer would've been cursed.
A dispassionate waste of a terrific up-and-coming cast, impressive New York scenery and a provocative novel, Schumacher's dispassionate 2010 Twelve embodies all of the 2002 criticisms about the writer and the book in one succinct ninety-three minute movie.
Yes, without the controversy, the author sells less copies of his works today than he did at seventeen with just one title to his name. Yet on the plus side and since so much time has passed and he's evolved into a much more respected scribe, those who pick up the latest McDonnell now are doing so out of genuine interest rather than the intent to tear him apart.
Unfortunately, Twelve the movie brings back all of the frustration that poured out of reviews, op-ed pieces and columns decrying McDonnell as the sort of Upper East Side style character born with a silver spoon in his mouth whom he wrote about back in 2002.
Likewise, we're not in the least bit fascinated by this interpretation of his tale about an intelligent teen (Chace Crawford) who begins selling drugs to all of his wealthy classmates after the death of his mother sends him reeling.
Hoping to savor the beauty of the book's language with the inclusion of off-screen narrator Kiefer Sutherland who reads several extensive passages aloud throughout the film, Schumacher lets his good intentions get in the way of good taste. Soon, the narrator begins speaking far more often than Twelve's entire cast-of-characters, which is never a good thing in contemporary cinema.
Instead of translating the book to film with a solid, rich adaptation that shows us what McDonnell was getting at with new scenes, conversations or flashbacks, screenwriter Jordan Melamed makes the fatal mistake of “telling us” about those populating the frames rather than showing us their thoughts and feelings. And this error makes the Twelve teens seem even more one-dimensional than they were accused of being in some particularly harsh '02 literary reviews.
While admittedly even McDonnell confessed that he struggled with writing believable female characters, Melamed doesn't remedy this situation in the slightest as the book's most likable heroine played by the immensely talented young actress Emma Roberts (The Winning Season, Lymelife) winds up seeming just as shallow as the rest of the work's ensemble.
By casting Gossip Girl hunk Crawford to slum it for an Ellis inspired role, Twelve initially reminds you of watching Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek do the same thing in 2002's misanthropic, misogynistic adaptation of Ellis' Rules of Attraction. Yet at least in Attraction, director Roger Avary had the guts to truly commit to the dark view of mankind in bringing Ellis' despicable characters to life.
In stark contrast, the only impression the teens in Schumacher's Twelve make is the sense that they're Barbie or Ken style life-size mannequins standing in for real people, thereby guaranteeing that the film's deadly climax doesn't boast the same shocking impact that McDonnell delivered in his warped amalgam of Ellis, Fitzgerald and Salinger.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
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