REVIEW | Alessandra de Rossi’s ‘12’ is contrived and insufferable

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Dialogue-heavy films are gratifying— if the screenplay is excellently written. Harold Pinter or Tony Kushner plays are glowing examples of this.

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“12” is a dialogue-heavy film, too, and a two-hander. It takes us inside an enormous and very expensive—but tasteless—house to listen to the emotional bickering and confessions between a couple about to separate after 12 years of being together (5 years as best friends and 7 years as a couple).

The woman is a makeup-free smoker, Erika (Alessandra de Rossi), and the man is a Phil-Am whiny mestizo, Anton (newcomer Ivan Padilla). Erika, after 12 years, decides to pour out her bottled-up emotions and enumerate the flaws of her lover all in one day: from his taste in interior decor to his controlling nature.

And it’s an endurance test listening to the two. To begin with, the conversations (story and script courtesy of de Rossi) are filled with cliches and platitudes, or something inspired from “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.”

The lines feel unnatural to the ears— it has that distinct feel that they are forced. And when de Rossi speaks the English lines, you see the struggle in her mouth. Why write the script in English and pick a Phil-Am as a co-star? To add color to the male character? The objective is not clear.

Worse, the two have zero chemistry. They don’t evoke the vibes of a couple who’d been close and intimate. De Rossi is stiff around Padilla. She behaves more like a disgruntled maid who’s had it with her employer, chastising him for everything. That’s how disconnceted they feel. We don’t even see them kissing on the mouth in the flashbacks, like a normal couple living together would do. There’s just one scene of a silly silhouette of a kiss.

Padilla, whose character is clearly written to be a contemptible person, is insufferable—not because he’s the bad guy here, but his role of a controlling, selfish, immature human being comes out as a caricature of a person with mental retardation or another form of mental disorder classified somewhere in the DSM-IV. He yells his infantile lines, and it’s torturous.

Erika’s personality is stronger and domineering, and she looks smart, while Anton looks like a helpless wimp, so their roles don’t match. Unrealistically, too, they’ve been best friends for 5 years, meaning they had a candid and transparent relationship before they took it to the next level, yet Erika seems to despise everything about Anton. It makes you wonder if she’s just a freeloader who wants to be associated with a mestizo.

There are no hints as to why she fell in love with Anton in the first place, or any insight into the evolution of their relationship. It feels as if it’s been bad since Day 1. They only spelled out that they have similar taste in movies. Whoa.

And then there’s the house, supposedly lived in by two creative, artistic people: a commercial director and a musician. But not only does the house look kitschy, but what makes it sadder is that it doesn’t feel like a home. It painfully looks like a set design: a strategically placed painting on the floor leaning against the wall, a garish couch, and lots of dining areas. Like the two joined an open-house tour and recited their stilted lines in there.

And why get a 12 tattoo? I probably missed the reason, but if it’s a prophecy of the end of their relationship, that’s weird.

Directed by Dondon Santos, “12” is contrived. From the production design, to the cast, down to the cringe-worthy lines. The bright spot is de Rossi’s skillful dramatic showcase in the dining room as Anton speaks to her aunt over the phone, plus her musical composition. But overall, the movie hurt my eyes, my mind, and my ears.

1 out of 5 stars

Nov 8, 2017 in Philippine cinemas

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