By Brian Lafferty
June 20, 2011 (San Diego) – If Henry Jaglom made a movie about a young man’s sexual discoveries the result might have been something like Twelve Thirty. Jaglom didn’t direct it, but it feels like a Jaglom film. It’s talky, self-indulgent, shot with a handheld camera, and is a supposed deep character study. All that's missing are David Proval, Zack Norman, and a liberal use of the zoom lens.
Jeff (Jonathan Groff) is a young twentysomething who has never kissed a girl in his lifetime. Within the first twenty minutes he acquires the girl of his dreams (Portia Reiners), kisses her, and loses his virginity. Later he has sex with Mel’s sister and then engages in a tryst with their mother (or maybe he didn’t, it’s up to the viewer to decide).
Twelve Thirty strives for realism of the Direct Cinema kind. The perpetually handheld camera acts like it records the events unobtrusively like a fly on the wall documentary. The image is often grainy and it seems like director Jeff Lipsky uses only the light available in the shot.
I never bought the realism, however. The movie may look real but a lot of the events are adolescent fantasy. I could not believe that the girl of a man’s dreams would make herself fully available to him. (“I want to have sex with you,” Mel bluntly tells him. “I’ll be angry if you don’t.”)
The handheld filming method, seen throughout most of the movie, is effective only in small doses. When used for establishing shots and still shots, it can easily take one out of the moment, as it did with me. No matter how much a cameraman stands still, the camera will always shake. Twelve Thirty is proof that, unless there is a clear stylistic reason for it (and there isn’t one in this film), these types of shots require a tripod.
Lipsky feeds these characters some of the most ridiculous dialogue I’ve ever heard in a movie and I’m not forgetting Luciano Pavarotti’s “Fini will water you” line from Yes, Giorgio. Just before Jeff and Mel make love he tells her with extreme brutal honesty that he has Peyronie’s Disease. Later they talk to two British tourists. One of the ladies says, “We go through husbands like kidney stones.” Often times I wished I was on the set to ask Lipsky if maybe these lines are perhaps a bit too awkward.
The only good thing about the movie is Lipsky’s frank treatment of sex. Jeff and Mel’s first time is erotic not so much because of the sex itself, but because it’s wholly honest. The scene is brief, and not much is shown, but the characters’ deliberateness and emotions are just as stimulating.
On the other end of the spectrum is Jeff’s deflowering of Maura. This encounter is painful to watch because of its realism. It’s one of those scenes that make you feel unclean watching it but you’re unsure if it’s in a good or bad way.
I’m all for dialogue driven movies and penetrating character studies. Watching Twelve Thirty is like being in a room with uninteresting people who talk about stuff only their circle of friends find interesting.
Twelve Thirty is currently playing at the Reading Gaslamp.
A SenArt Films release. Director and Screenplay: Jeff Lipsky. Music: Paul Hsu. Cinematography: Ruben O’Malley. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Portia Reiners, Mamie Gummer, Karen Young, and Reed Birney. 120 minutes. Unrated.