Nick McDonell was 17 when he wrote 2002's Twelve, about New York's richkids experimenting with new superdrugs. Now it's a Sundance movie, by Joel Schumacher, starring Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Keifer Sutherland, and 50 Cent. And it sucks. Terribly.
Post critic Kyle Smith reports from Sundance that audiences were giggling at the film's woefully earnest depiction of rich-kid depravity.
Now, "sucks," is, of course, a subjective assessment, and also, this is Kyle Smith we're talking about, so it's an especially subjective assessment, because as far as critics go, Kyle Smith isn't exactly Manohla Dargis. That said, a few reports from Sundance on this begin to form a small consensus. From a tracking board I'm on, where assistants share industry tips, someone put out a call for Sundance screeners. One response:
TWELVE is not worth chasing down, take it from someone who has seen it...
I wish I had it to share so you could experience the suffering as well. I saw it in a small screening and I had to resist laughing/walking out it was so bad.
Of course, these are just industry assistants, but it's worth remembering that nobody in the industry wants to badmouth a big movie with important talent and major attachments, because they might need those things in a date to come. Reminder: this is why nobody who works in the film industry really "hates" anything openly.
Really though, these are just three voices, and they're by no means an indication of a shitty movie. That said, there's almost no way this movie can't be bad. How can it not?
When Twelve hit shelves in 2002, McDonnell's book was a publicist's dream:
There was Nick McDonell, the handsome young wunderkind.
There was Nick McDonell, the handsome young wunderkind, who knew what the fucked up kids were like.
There was Nick McDonell, the young author who—when he wasn't being compared to Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney—was being interestingly blurbed by everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to Richard Price and Joan Didion.
There was Nick McDonell, who's Jennifer Egan-penned New York Times book review of his coming-of-age story about Upper East Side kids getting fucked up on a mysterious new superdrug called "Twelve" that's a cross between MDMA, heroin, and speed called McDonnell's writing an "authentic voice."
This was a few years after Cruel Intentions,
right around the time the adaptation of The Rules of Attraction came out,
when The OC was gearing up to make a bi-curious teenage lesbian out of Mischa Barton, though long after Kids showed Manhattan's unsupervised huffing balloons and getting AIDS.
And then there's Less Than Zero, which is almost the exact same book, but in LA, which Bret Easton Ellis wrote when he was in college.
See, teenagers being rebellious and fucked up is a universal theme that continues to do well! Especially when you're talking about specific subsets of teens en masse, and especially when you're talking about the children of the rich and privileged, to see how "the other half" gets fucked up.
But the sub-genre of really rich kids getting fucked up among some of the stuffiest people alive—Upper East Side royalty—hadn't been thoroughly shaken up in a while in 2003, certainly not by one of them, in a book that won the praises of New York's literary elite.
I read Twelve when I was 18. And of course, like every other 18 year-old aspiring writer, I wanted to punch McDonnell in the face. Mostly because he got the chance to write the book, but mostly because it's a pretty decent story, and holds up as an okay modern literature book, but at the very least, an excellent YA novel.
Seven years later, the adaptation is released. And reports come out that it sucks. Possible reasons:
1. Because this is after Gossip Girl, NYC Prep, The City, and of course The Hills and Laguna Beach were released. McDonnell's book was interesting five years ago, but to say we've overdosed on this thing over the last few years would be a bad play on words and an even worse understatement. Especially when Bret Easton Ellis has already given The Hills his endorsement.
2. Because Chace Crawford's on Gossip Girl, and comparisons are inevitable.
3. And comparisons to Gossip Girl will kill it, because Gossip Girl is a self-aware, meta show that constantly makes fun of its own melodrama (a Josh Schwartz trademark he started with The O.C.). There's no hint of irony in Twelve, the book, so can you really expect the movie not to follow suit?
4. No. Also, book adaptations almost always suck.
5. Finally: Joel Schumacher. What's the guy who directed Batman & Robin, Phone Booth, and other campy aughts' action "classics" doing at Sundance?
Apparently, trying to secure distribution for what was his indie labor of love. Which he did:
The film and video division of independent book publisher Hannover House ponied up about $2 million for "Twelve," director Joel Schumacher's look at drug-dealing among privileged Manhattan teens that will play Friday as the fest's closing feature. Roeg Sutherland, who co-heads CAA's film finance group with Micah Green, shepherded the deal.
That's right: CAA—that CAA, the one-stop shop Death Star of Talent Agencies—packaged this deal with their talent, and sold it, the same way one would sell a really shiny, pretty, custom car. Film packaging is nothing new and packages are basically how agencies are making the big bucks these days, but film packaging for such a low price, with such name talent, and selling their movie at Sundance, a place where independent cinema once thrived, is pretty fucking craven. Even worse is that it's entirely unsurprising.
Way worse movies have premiered at Sundance, surely. And Twelve isn't the worst movie at Sundance because people say it's bad—which they do—or because it might actually be bad, which it probably is. No.
Twelve is the worst movie at Sundance because it represents in every way possible the consistent squandering of opportunities for up-and-coming authors, actors, screenwriters, and directors who aren't already established. Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts' niece. Keifer Sutherland, son of Donald, who (as a commenter pointed out) has another son, Keifer's half-brother Roeg, who worked the deal from CAA's end. Even the book was born out of well-documented nepotism as Nick McDonell's parents were writers and editors and friends with Important Manhattan Writing People, which explains the aforementioned blurbs his book got seven years ago from Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and Richard Price when it first arrived. Gross.
Sundance is by few if any means an independent film festival any more, but this? The problem with Twelve is that you don't even have to see it to know that it makes a boldfaced joke not just out of Sundance's former reputation as a place where independent art once thrived, but of the word "independent," as well, because Twelve is a total fucking reach-around vanity project that represents nepotism and interests who are, as always, trying to capitalize on overwrought subject material and reinforce the status quo. Besides which, it apparently sucks.