Twelve and Holding
From our vantage point of age adults can look back at our childhood as a wonderful, carefree time. This must be some sort of psychological coping mechanism since while you are in your pre teen years life seems far from wonderful. Film makers seem to get this and the coming of age story has been a favorite genre by the public for ages. ‘Twelve and Holding’ takes a look at a three 12 year-olds who are forced to face adulthood far too soon. This film looks back at this tumultuous time by examining how this children deal with situations that would strain the hardest adult.
Identical twins Jacob and Rudy Carges (both played by Conor Donovan) may share the same genetic makeup but they couldn’t be more different. Jacob is sullen and introspective. He is embarrassed by the large wine stain birthmark that covers the left side of his face. Jacob has taken to wearing a hockey mask he received for his birthday to cover the mark. In contrast his brother Rudy is more dominate and athletic. He walks with a confident swagger, a natural leader. The boys decide to get back at the local bullies by dumping a bucket of urine on them. The bullies vows to burn down the boy’s club house, a tree house in the woods behind their home. Wanting to protect their property the twins gather their two best friends, Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) and Leonard (Jesse Camacho) to spend the night in the tree house. Malee, like many girls her age is more precocious then the boys she hangs out with. At this age this is not unusual nor is the fact that girls could still be seen as one of the gang. Leonard is overweight which has made him apprehensive even with his friends. on that fateful night Jacob is afraid and refuses to join Rudy and Leonard on overnight guard duty. When the bullies come they are unaware that boys are in the tree house and they torch it. Leonard manages to fall out to safety but Rudy is killed in the blaze. Jacob’s parents, Jim (Linus Roache) and Ashley (Jayne Atkinson) are devastated by the loss of their son. It is obvious that Rudy was their favorite. While Rudy was alive Jacob was always in his shadow. Now, he has the terrible task of living up to a memory.
The remaining kids deal with the aftermath in different ways. Jacob takes to visiting the bullies in juvenile detention. Initially it is hatred that drives him but soon he winds up in a sympathetic friendship with one of the bully brothers, Kenny (Michael C. Fuchs). While his mind was at first on revenge he finds that he really doesn’t want to get back at the boys who killed his brother. Melee is the daughter of single parent, psychiatrist Carla Chung (Annabella Sciorra). Melee is desperate for a father figure and takes extreme steps to fulfill this need. Melee starts to eavesdrop on her mother’s therapeutic sessions. She develops a crush on one patient, a construction worker named Gus (Jeremy Renner). Melee is a very bright girl and is able to use the information she ha gleaned from listening to Gus’ sessions to become friendly with him. With her inside information she learns his favorite song and performs it at school. She also begins to dress far beyond her young years in an attempt to get Gus’ attention. Her crush becomes an obsession and she breaks into his apartment in an attempt to seduce him. After the fire Leonard has lost his sense of taste and smell. He also is mentored by a concerned Coach Gilmore (Bruce Altman) who wants the boy to lose weight and shape up. Leonard’s first stage of rebellion is refusing to eat the fat laden meals prepared by his obese mother Grace (Marcia Debonis). She begins to feel isolated from her son. Food was the one common ground they had and now he no longer wants to share that with her. Leonard gets it in his head to give his mother a little taste of tough love. He winds up locking her in a food free basement room to make her face her addiction to eating.
This film is an incredible character study of young people we see as children who are facing some very adult problems. The film is never condescending when dealing with the principles, it looks at them as human beings worth consideration, albeit very damaged ones. Director Michael Cuesta is no stranger to dark comedies. He directed several episodes of the HBO hit series ‘Six Feet Under’ as well as Showtime’s new serial killer series ‘Dexter’. His talent is bringing out very emotionally complex performances out of his young cast. Consider how young age of the characters this is not a particularly easy film to watch. There is a part in every well adjusted adult to protect children. Cuesta uses this instinct to draw the audience in and make us care about the plights of these children. His use of the camera gives an intimate feel to the piece; more like watching a home movie than a film.
Even though the cast is of very tender years there are no doubts that they have more talent than many adult actors. Keep an eye on these young people; they are going to be the A-listers of the next generation. Conor Donovan does an excellent job in his dual role. He is able to differentiate the brothers with his body language. There is never a doubt as to which brother he is portraying. Donovan is able to show a transformation in Jacob that is a treat to watch. There is growth in his character that pops off the screen. Jesse Camacho never allows his character to become the typical ‘fat kid’ movies usually depict. He plays Leonard with sensitivity and honesty. Watching his performance you don’t find yourself feeling sorry for him. Instead you root for him to succeed. The best performance here is given by Zoe Weizenbaum. It is almost unbelievable that someone born in 1991 has such control and focus in a role. Even in the scenes that most adults would find creepy Weizenbaum makes us need to watch. The audience can have sympathy for her and even a glimmer of understanding why she is so drawn to a much older man. She is able to connect with the audience in a fashion that many adult actors would love to master. Not only does she make this connection she does so with ease.
Genius Production and the Independent Film Channel have done it again. Whenever I hear that I have to review one of their titles I know that no matter what they will provide a film that showcases talent instead of relying on a big budget and special effects. Many people may be unfamiliar with films like these but they also deliver quality. The technical specifications are not what many would expect. Many people are used to booming audio and overly bright video. Here we get something more realistic. The non anamorphic 1.85:1 video is without flaw. The color balance is impeccable as is the contrast. The audio is presented in Dolby 5.1 but the sub woofer really doesn’t have that much to do. The rear speakers give a natural ambience while the front speakers deliver better channel separation than sported by many larger films. There is a commentary track by Michael Cuesta that details the effort required to make such an emotionally charged film with such young stars. There are also some deleted scenes but none really stand out and it is understandable why they where excluded from the finished product. This film may star children but it is not intended for younger eyes. For the adults this is a fascinating and compelling film that belongs in any serious film collection.