Twelve and Holding

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/02/06 00:03:27

"Think this is grim? Wait until they turn thirteen."
3 stars (Just Average)

Once again exploring the same thematic territory that he utilized in his debut film “L.I.E.”–in which an adolescent boy deals with loss, grief and loneliness in an awkward and potentially controversial way (in this case, “controversial” means that it will stand out in the Sundance brochure)–Michael Cuesta’s “Twelve and Holding” gives us a trio of adolescents dealing with loss, grief and loneliness in awkward and potentially controversial ways. And like “L.I.E.,” the result is a film that has a lot of good individual ingredients but no real idea of how to pull them all together into a satisfying whole.

After a prank pulled by a couple of bullies goes horribly wrong and results in the death of his twin brother, Jacob (Conor Donovan) is forced to deal with his grief and guilt alone when it becomes clear that his grieving parents–who suddenly decide this is the perfect time to adopt–aren’t up to the task. Morbidly obese Leonard (Jesse Camacho), who suffered a head injury in the prank that caused him to lose his sense of taste, decides to undertake a strict weight-loss regime and tries to force his deeply-in-denial and desperately overweight family to follow suit. Finally, Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) tries to deal with her absence of her father and the rage that inspires in her therapist mother (Annabella Sciorra) by queasily setting her romantic sights on one of Mom’s troubled patients (Jeremy Renner).

As he showed in “L.I.E.,” Cuesta has a keen facility for guiding young actors into delivering difficult and emotionally tricky performances with a skill that belies their years. Unfortunately, as he also showed in “L.I.E.,” he still hasn’t quite figured out how to tell a consistent and satisfying story that can take advantage of those performances. While any one of the stories here could have served as a feature film by itself, trying to juggle three of them at once does none of them any good–every time one starts to cook a little, it moves to one of the others and the momentum is lost. (Then again, considering the disappointing wrap-ups for each of the story lines, maybe they wouldn’t have worked on their own.) And when Cuesta trots out the more sordid material as each of the children end up placing themselves in serious jeopardy, those elements come across less as logical extensions of his screenplay and more like desperate attempts to court controversy in an effort to lend weight and meaning to material that hasn’t earned it on its own merits.

Although I admit to preferring “Twelve and Holding” to “L.I.E.,” there is still nothing here to suggest that Cuesta is anything other than a slightly more humanist and slightly less bitter version of Todd Solondz and one Todd Solondz on the loose is more than enough in my book.

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