3 stars (out of four)
Thanks to movies ranging from "The Ice Storm" to "American Beauty" to any one of Todd Solodnz's films, modern suburban dystopia has been pretty well documented. And now "Twelve and Holding" joins these melancholic ranks, once again shedding light on the events that shatter--quietly or with great fanfare--our assumptions about normalcy and safety.
Directed by Michael Cuesta, the man behind 2001's "L.I.E.," "Twelve and Holding" delivers a similar emotional punch, but with results that are far less bleak. Following the death of a 12-year-old boy, the movie charts the responses--adult and adolescent--to the tragedy, and the universal efforts of children to carve out their own places in the grown-up world.
Rudy and Jacob Carges are twins (both played by Conor Donovan) in the Biblical mold of Jacob and Esau; where Rudy is a crusader, popular and proud, Jacob fades into the background. One summer night, Rudy is killed while defending a tree house from local bullies, and Jacob's world is summarily destroyed. The boys' friends, the precocious Malee (played by Zoe Weizenbaum) and the soft-spoken, chubby Leonard (Jesse Camacho) are also devastated, and as the year progresses, they each struggle to cope with Rudy's death, as well as their own brushes with adulthood.
Anthony Cipriano's script moves along at a nice clip. Some of the kids' lines sound awfully adult, which, though initially jarring, actually fits neatly with the dichotomy playing out on screen. The kids in this movie often find themselves behaving as the only adults in their families--as their parents flail against their own disappointments and resentments.
Jacob watches his parents reel from Rudy's death and routinely takes a cab to visit his brother's killer in prison. Malee, tired of the helplessness of childhood, develops a whopper of a crush on a local construction worker (Jeremy Renner), who happens to be a client of her mother (a therapist played by Annabella Sciorra). Leonard's entire family is obese, and when a freak accident takes away his ability to smell and taste food, he starts a crusade to improve the household's eating habits. "Are you in a cult?!" his mother demands, semi-hysterically, when Leonard reveals his nutrition plans to his parents.
The kids deliver uniformly solid, occasionally remarkable performances. In particular, Camacho, as the overweight, sweet-faced Leonard, infuses his role with enormous dignity; he's nevertheless responsible for much of the movie's comic relief. Leonard's primary act of defiance, at a dinner table groaning under platters of comfort food, is to produce an apple and dramatically take a large, noisy bite. It's a bravura moment.
Cuesta, who followed up "L.I.E." by directing a handful of episodes of "Six Feet Under," clearly has a taste for the darker side of human nature. Here, he infuses the gloom with a ray of something like hope, allowing us to imagine not only the worst for these kids, but also the possibility for something good.
'Twelve and Holding'
Directed by Michael Cuesta; screenplay by Anthony Cipriano; photographed by Romeo Tirone; edited by Eric Carlson and Kane Platt; music by Pierre Foldes; production design by Lucio Seixas; produced by Brian Bell, Cuesta, Leslie Urdang and Jenny Schweitzer. An IFC Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:34. MPAA rating: R (for language, violence and sexuality).
Jacob/Rudy Conor Donovan
Malee Zoe Weizenbaum
Leonard Fisher Jesse Camacho
Jim Carges Linus Roache