Twelve and Holding (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

There's something compelling, and occasionally profound, about a well-made coming of age story. Perhaps part of the reason is that the experience, although shaded with subtle differences for each individual, is universal. Regardless of race, class, or gender, every human being must at some time cross over the cusp of adulthood. As in many films, Twelve and Holding uses a dramatic event as a catalyst. A tragic occurrence forces three 12-year olds (hence the title) to make the leap, perhaps prematurely, out of childhood.

Rudy and Jacob Carges (both played by Conor Donovan) are twins, but they are not equal in the eyes of their parents or friends. Rudy is the aggressive one, an A-type personality who dominates in his circle of acquaintances and is fearless in the face of local bullies Kenny (Michael C. Fuchs) and Keith (Joseph Foster). Jacob, on the other hand, is passive. He dislikes confrontation and wears a hockey goalie's mask to hide the port wine stain birthmark that mars his features. Their two closest friends are Leonard Fisher (Jesse Camacho), an overweight kid whose parents regard him with indifference, and Malee Chung (Zoe Weizenbaum), a precocious tomboy.

Tragedy strikes, with Rudy dying and Leonard being injured, when Kenny and Keith firebomb a treehouse where the two friends are hiding. It's an accident - Kenny and Keith don't know anyone is in the structure - but that doesn't change the outcome. Rudy's death has a profound effect upon Jacob, who begins to harbor thoughts of revenge against Kenny and Keith. He visits them repeatedly in juvenile prison and tells them he's waiting for them to be freed so he can mete out an appropriate punishment. Meanwhile, Malee falls for Gus (Jeremy Renner), one of her therapist mom's patients, and decides to explore her femininity. And Leonard, who has lost his sense of taste as a result of the treehouse injury, decides to diet and exercise to get in shape - an effort that his mother and father ridicule.

Arguably the most involving of the three parallel stories is Malee's. Most of us don't have familiarity with tormenting imprisoned bullies or resorting to an extreme form of child-to-parent "tough love" (as Leonard does), but the process of beginning to explore one's sexuality is an across-the-board experience. Admittedly, Malee goes to unusual lengths (breaking into Gus' apartment in a clumsy attempt to seduce him) in her quest to resolve some of her issues, but there's something in the way she acts, and reacts, that will strike a recognizable chord with many viewers. It also helps that of the three young stars, Zoe Weizenbaum is the most gifted (and the most well-known - she played the young incarnation of Pumpkin in Memoirs of a Geisha). Conor Donovan and Jesse Camacho are fine, but Weizenbaum is the strongest member of the ensemble.

Twelve and Holding makes a telling point about the importance of the child/parent bond at this age. Although none of the protagonists comes from a traditionally unhappy home (no abuse or overt neglect, for example), it's the lack of parental attention that provokes them to act as they do. Jacob is aware that he's his parents' consolation prize - they valued Rudy more than him, and he knows it. Leonard's poor self image is a consequence of his mother and father's repeated knocks at his sense of worth. And Malee's attachment to an older man is partly the result of needing a father figure. Her mother is divorced and her father doesn't want her around.

Director Michael Cuesta hits the right notes with his characters. They are believable 12-year olds: intelligent (but not too intelligent) yet naïve, and trying with mixed success to navigate the path of adolescence. Twelve and Holding offers elements of pathos and comedy, of hope and darkness, but never goes overboard in any one area. Most importantly, it allows the audience to develop a bond with the protagonists without resorting to manipulative melodrama. While not in the same class as the most memorable coming of age stories (Stand by Me, for example), Twelve and Holding is a respectable entry into the genre.

Twelve and Holding (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2006-05-26
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1