12 and Holding
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

       I first saw 12 AND HOLDING as part of the New Directors/New Films
at NYC's Museum of Modern Art  (jointly sponsored with the
Film Society of Lincoln Center), and I can honestly say that my opinion of the film --
which was pretty high -- has only increased. I realize that this is the sort of film that
will divide critics and audiences, much as Cuesta's debut
L.I.E. did. That 2001 film
appeared on my Ten Best list for the year and at this point,  I suspect that
12 AND HOLDING will also have a place on this year's list.

The film centers on a group of friends and the various experiences (tragic and
comic) they face as they negotiate the terrain of puberty and the threshold of
adulthood. Twins Jacob and Rudy (both played by Conor Donovan) could not be
more different. Rudy is athletic and the de facto leader of a his clique. As the film
opens, he and Jacob are running from a group of older bullies. They seek refuge in
a tree house and Rudy dumps a bucket of urine on their tormentors who vow revenge.
Rudy, determined to protect his ground, sneaks out in the evening and hides in the
tree house with the overweight Leonard (Jesse Camacho). The bullies toss a Molotov
cocktail into the tree house, unaware that both boys are inside. Leonard manages
to escape but strikes his head and is left without the senses of smell or taste. Rudy,
tragically, is killed. His death leads to a series of events that, in Anthony Cipriano's
screenplay, constantly surprise the audience.

Malee (the amazing Zoë Weizenbaum) channels her grief into her newfound
female power. As the film opened, the precocious Malee had just had her first period
and she now begins to explore the effect she has on men. Her therapist mother
(Annabella Sciorra) is too preoccupied to realize just what is happening with her
daughter, and their close bond is being fractured as Malee attempts to find her own
way in the world. In her case, it means developing a crush on a former fireman turned
construction worker (Jeremy Renner) who happens to be one of her mother's patients.

Leonard deals with the aftermath of his accident by deciding to try a more healthy
lifestyle. If there's a flaw in the script and in Cuesta's direction, it is stressing the comic
aspects of Leonard's overweight parents (Tom McGowan and Marcia DeBonis). But
things turn more serious and the cartoonish tone is replaced by genuine caring and

The most moving story is Jacob's. With a port-wine stain birthmark that covers
half his face, Jacob has been the shy twin. He also has felt that his parents (Linus
Roache and Jayne Atkinson) haven't loved him as much as they did Rudy. His
insecurities are only increased when his folks adopt another child and his mother
confesses her desire for vengeance. In an effort to heal, Jacob begins visiting one
of the bullies at the detention center and gradually befriends the slightly older boy.

As he did with Paul Dano and Billy Kay in
L.I.E., Cuesta proves a master with his
young cast, coaxing memorable performances from Weizenbaum, Camacho and
Donovan. But  he is also able to evince superlative work from the adults as well,
particularly from Renner,  Sciorra, Roache, and Atkinson.

                  Rating:                        A -
                  MPAA Rating:            R for some violence and sexual content involving
                                                           minors, and for language
                  Running time:             94 mins.