Apartment 12

| January 16, 2006

For all of you who love romantic comedies, here’s a good one you may not have seen. Now on DVD, APARTMENT 12 first garnered attention at the Birmingham Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in 2001 under the title LIFE/DRAWING, winning the Best Feature Award, and director Dan Bootzin (who co-wrote the script with producer Elizabeth Rivera Bootzin) earned a Best Director nod in 2002 at the Phoenix Film Festival. Starring Mark Ruffalo as a struggling artist, the film is a chance to see him before his performance in YOU CAN COUNT ON ME brought him increasingly more visible roles in films like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, 13 GOING ON THIRTY, JUST LIKE HEAVEN and RUMOR HAS IT. Lest you think Ruffalo can only do romantic comedies, it’s important to note that mixed in with these films have been roles in WINDTALKERS, IN THE CUT and COLLATERAL as well as several upcoming dramas slated for 2006 release.
But for those of you who love seeing Ruffalo as the sweet, slightly confused, love-smitten guy-next-door, this DVD is for you. His performance is all that you could want in a romantic comedy, as he plays puppy dog Alex, an artist who counts his chickens before they’re hatched by quitting his pizza delivery job in anticipation of a one-man show at a local gallery. But upon seeing Alex’s slides, the gallery curator withdraws any offer of a show because Alex’s work lacks “soul.” As if this day weren’t bad enough, Alex returns home only to find his belongings on the porch, his girlfriend (Anne-Marie Johnson) saying her “goodbyes” in a brief note taped to the door his key no longer unlocks.
Within moments, Alex finds himself living in apartment 12 of a low-rent building filled with off-beat (if not off-the-wall) characters. The easy-going but fast-talking and gently manipulative landlord (Alan Gelfant) takes the despondent Alex under his wing, but to no avail, while a range of neighbors and visitors to the building (played by Mary Coleston, Krystina Carson and Manuel Abra) make Alex’s life even more surreal. Adding insult to injury, Alex returns to his job of delivering pizzas to office buildings chock full of people his age who are more successful than he is.
While there are some humorous moments in this set up, the film initially feels like it’s working too hard to make everything quirky and funny. Sadly, the struggling artist scenario seems, well, just a bit clichéd. That’s not to say that the individual performances and moments don’t work, but the first part of the film feels clunky and doesn’t quite gel. Thankfully that all changes with the arrival of Beth Ulrich who, as Lori, moves into apartment 11 — right across the hall from Alex.
Ruffalo and Ulrich have a chemistry that sparks, and the film takes on vibrant life as it tackles unexpected and original romantic comedy territory: the two neighbors try to keep their relationship secret from the rest of the building and gradually face the fact that they’re very different from each other. Lori is a veteran of the air force and, based on her vocabulary, not so well educated, a fact that increasingly grates on Alex’s slowly-revealed artistic and intellectual elitism. As you might expect, this drives a wedge in their relationship, and the ending of the film reaches a delicate and satisfying balance of the hopeful and the bittersweet.
Along the way, APARTMENT 12 takes a few soft jabs at the art world and creativity, but the real heart of the film is the unlikely relationship between Alex and Lori, far from what either imagined for themselves but just what the other needs. The Bootzin’s have taken the stock situations that lie at the core of the romantic comedy genre and achieved something fresh. Though I was a bit skeptical at the beginning, by the end, I loved this film and was sorry to see it end.
At the time of shooting, Ruffalo was a somewhat unknown quantity, but APARTMENT 12 displays his consistent and fine work in creating unconventional, vulnerable and ultimately likeable characters. Of course, since this film, his career has taken off. Why the same hasn’t happened for Beth Ulrich is hard to say, because she gives a remarkable performance here. While not the same type of beauty seen in Ruffalo’s more recent costars (like Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Aniston), Ulrich creates a character who seems real and beautiful and capable and unexpected. Once she enters the picture, APARTMENT 12 shifts into high gear and becomes a delightful and original romantic comedy.
Ruffalo and Ulrich’s performances as well as the Bootzins’ take on romantic comedies make this a film worth seeing. Definitely take a look at APARTMENT 12, and be sure to watch all the way through the closing credits for some scenes alluded to but not shown in the main part of the film.

About the Author:

Josef Steiff Joe Steiff would gladly spend his days and nights watching movies and TV with a little writing on the side. Oh, and teach at Columbia College in Chicago. And maybe play Mass Effect. But sleep gets in the way. He's made a few films. edited Popular Culture and Philosophy volumes on Battlestar Galactica, Anime, Manga and Sherlock Holmes for Open Court Books, wrote The Complete Idiot's Guide to Independent Filmmaking and is a co-author of Storytelling Across Worlds: Transmedia for Creatives and Producers.
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