For White Mike (Chace Crawford), life in New York has changed since his mother died of cancer and he and his father fell from their cushy life. Now White Mike deals drugs (but never indulges himself) to the wealthy, vapid beautiful people he used to consort with. He hides his new job from his childhood best friend, Molly (Emma Roberts), who is the only thing he desires. Meanwhile, rich kids throw parties, have sex, and get hooked on Twelve, a new designer drug that seems to be a cross between coke and ecstasy.
The story was originally a YA novel written by Nick McDonell in 2002, when he was just seventeen. This garnered McDonell quite a bit of attention. The book was hailed as “controversial” and “edgy” and all those other adjectives that critics like to throw around when a precocious teenager writes a gritty account of what it’s like to be young, white, and privileged in New York. I read the book when I was eighteen (McDonell and I are the same age, coincidentally), and while I remember liking it, I never thought much of it becoming a film. The resulting film, almost a decade later, is kind of a mess.
Twelve is directed by septuagenarian Joel Schumaker (St. Elmo’s Fire) with a script adapted by Jordan Melamed. Whatever authentic angst and frustration about high school that McDonell was able to convey in the novel is lost in this flashy, empty adaptation. The film drowns in its own pretension and self-importance, and the sheer number of characters that populate this film means that the audience can’t get to know any of them enough to care about their (admittedly bleak) futures.
To say that the film takes itself seriously is down-playing it: the film is narrated by an omniscient, gravelly-voiced Keifer Sutherland. Through his narration, viewers are given a jaded, almost satirical description of who these characters are and what their lives are like. Of course, the narration focuses mostly on rattling off traits of each of the characters instead of actually allowing the audience to get to know any of them. The clunky narration is the first clue that the filmmakers lacked confidence in the ability of the film’s cast to accurately communicate the story.
Which is partly true. Crawford, whose pretty-boy looks have largely allowed him to survive in Hollywood this long, is so painfully miscast that it hurts to watch him onscreen. Many of the other characters, whose sole purpose seems to be to fill certain stereotypes about wealthy kids in Manhattan, are adequate enough in their roles but are largely forgettable. Roberts turns in a very cool performance as good-girl Molly, the supposed icon of purity in a film full of depravity.
All is not lost, though. There are a few solid, noteworthy performances here. Curtis Jackson (50 Cent) plays Lionel, a really bad-news drug dealer who murders White Mike’s cousin at the beginning of the film (this fact almost gets forgotten in the shuffle of characters). Rory Culkin plays Christopher, a nerdy kid who gets used for his house and ability to throw parties. His brother Claude, played by Billy Magnussen, is also good as a ‘roid rehab drop-out who spends his days lifting weights on the balcony. But these few strong performances can’t support the melodrama happening around them, and the film’s odd, violent end leaves viewers wondering what the point was.
The bottom line is that although the drama attempts to be a bit nihilistic and profound, it comes off as unintentionally absurd. It’s another film to be added to the genre that so loves to both glorify and shame those lost youth of privilege. The problem is that the film has nothing new to add. Skip this one, guys. If you must, pick up the McDonell’s novel, but do so with a skeptical eye.
Twelve is available on DVD and on Netflix Instant Streaming now.