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flick pick | 12 and Holding 2005
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
Written by: Anthony Cipriano
Starring: Conor Donovan, Jesse Camacho, Zoe Weizenbaum, Jeremy Renner, Annabella Sciorra
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama
Watch it when you're in the mood for
something: serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor (watchability): ½ /5 

Plot synopsis Twelve-year olds Jacob, Rudy, Leonard and Malee grew up together and are best friends. Rudy is the confident ringleader, who spends a lot of his time defending his twin brother Jacob from the neighborhood bullies; Jacob, see, was born with a terrible birthmark that covers half his face, which makes him a frequent target of the cruelty of other kids. After Rudy fights two of his brother’s worst tormentors, the bullies threaten to wreck the boys’ treehouse. Determined to stand up to them and protect the treehouse, Rudy decides he’ll camp out there overnight; Leonard joins him, but Jacob hates confrontation and opts to stay safe and snug at home. True to their word, the bullies come back to the treehouse that night – and burn it down, completely unaware, until it’s too late, that Rudy and Leonard are inside. Rudy dies in the fire, while Leonard is injured but manages to survive. In the aftermath of the tragedy, each of the remaining three friends finds their lives changed. Jacob watches in guilt as his parents mourn the death of their golden boy son, feeling like he’s the one that should have died instead; he begins visiting the two boys who inadvertently caused his brother’s death, who are now spending time in juvenile detention. The boys aren’t monsters; they’re wracked with guilt over what they’ve done. Taking advantage of this, Jacob begins to turn the bullying tables around. Leonard, meanwhile, returns home from the hospital with an odd side effect. The obese product of a family for whom compulsive unhealthy eating is the norm, Leonard discovers he’s lost his sense of taste, and no longer has any desire to eat the greasy foods and sugary snacks his mom favors. He begins eating healthy meals and embarks on an exercise regime for the first time in his life; however, his family begins to resent his rejection of their lifestyle. Finally, precocious tomboy Malee begins to drift apart a bit from her longtime guy friends, as the onset of her first period triggers an awareness that she’s on her way to becoming a woman. She soon gets her first crush on a kind construction worker named Gus, who turns out to be a patient of her psychiatrist mom.

Review Though I’d hope that the events in 12 and Holding are far from the usual experiences of those of us who grew up in suburban environments similar to Jacob, Leonard and Malee’s, the feelings that guide these three almost-adolescents in their choices are pretty universal – the way they wobble on the edge of childhood and teenagedom, the boredom with their bland suburban surrounds, and the conflicts they feel between wanting to please their parents and beginning to assert themselves as individuals. I was reminded a little of Todd Solondz’ movies about suburban dystopia (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness), though 12 and Holding isn’t quite as bitter and offers a bit more hope for its young characters’ futures. Though the kids go through some disturbing, dark stuff and make some bad choices along the way, we’re allowed to really get into their heads; consequently, we understand what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, even as we wish better for them. All three of the young stars turn in subtle, complex, mature and wholly believable performances, with Zoe Weizenbaum as Malee particularly poignant and memorable (she’s helped by a terrific Jeremy Renner as Gus; their scenes together are fabulous, riding the perfect balance between cute crush and something more dangerous). Yes, unlike so many coming-of-age flicks that sugarcoat those awkward pubescent years, director Michael Cuesta and writer Anthony Cipriano skip the sweet nostalgia and focus instead on the awkward, painful and not-so-pretty side of that transition period. This makes for intense, often uncomfortable viewing … but it’s all done with so much intelligence and respect for its characters that it’s well worth sitting through the inevitable squirming.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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