A cast of unconventional charmers plays emotional bumper pool in “212,” Anthony Ng’s debut feature and a film that applies a little alchemical magic to the unglamorous realities of young urban life and romance. As its strongest asset is making appetizing romantic hay out of the pedestrian lifestyles of its 212 habitues, modest pic has a decent chance of making a connection with indie-friendly auds.
Any movie that starts in a laundromat is taking the low road to ecstasy, but such is Ng’s tack. Dirty laundry may be part of the set design, and so are other commonplaces of New York life. The director finds links between his characters via the most mundane devices — overused cell phones, broken copy machines, uncollected photographs, unreturned pens — means of communication, in other words, through which Ng’s people consistently miscommunicate, or simply don’t connect.
Viv (Catherine Zambri) takes an immediate liking to Seth (Brian Gant), the boy next door (at the next dryer), but neither can seem to make the right move. After a few awkward gestures in the right direction and then a broken date, Viv tells Seth she’s leaving on a bowling tour of Europe (yes, quirkiness rears its head). Viv sends taped messages back from “Europe,” without having ever left the 212 area code. Seth falls in love with this displaced voice and personality; Viv, to some sad extent, is a better communicator from afar.
And she’s not alone, not in this film. Ng’s point is that what makes people attractive might also make them inept at the mechanics of romance — a rather encouraging thing for those young and looking, namely the audience at whom this film is aimed.
Ng isn’t breaking much new ground on the overtrammeled trail of the twentysomething love story, but he does provide interesting perspectives. Photo shop clerk Vincent (Ajay Naidu) is smitten by a woman in some photos that have never been picked up. The woman, Ama (Michelle Luchese), an attendant at a copy shop, is oblivious to Vincent, being far more interested in the repairman Antonio (Johnny Sanchez), who, initially at least, is oblivious to her. Vincent, at the same time, is struggling to keep some ember alive in his terminal relationship with the deceitful Lana (Priscilla Garita).
“212” isn’t one of those urban fables in which all characters intersect miraculously; some meet, some don’t. Certainly, much of “212” is contrived and conventional, but the players are good and the direction unobtrusive, Ng being predisposed to the close-up and letting his cast have its way with the words.