Put simply, Twelve and Holding is a smashing coming of age drama. It is also a smashing American indie. At all times never less than intelligent, engaging, wry and unpredictable. It features superb performances from its three lead adolescent actors, a great turn from Jeremy Renner and an uncompromising thematic palette of revenge, hormonal desire and chronic obesity.
Jacob, Rudy, Leonard and Malee are three twelve-year-old friends. After an accident involving two bullies that kills Rudy (Conor Donovan) his brother Jacob (also played by Conor Donovan in two superb performances) seeks revenge. At first paying torturing, provocative visits to his brother’s killer, Kenny (Michael Fuchs) in Juvenile Detention before gradually building up an unlikely friendship. Concurrently Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum – excellent) develops a crush on one of her Therapist mother’s patients – traumatised fire fighter Gus (Jeremy Renner). Through her sheer precociousness she strikes up an initially innocent (enough) friendship. This soon develops into something far more problematic, but director Michael Cuesta handles her burgeoning infatuation with an assured compassion rather than uneasy seediness.
Meanwhile, the chronically obese Leonard is encountering something of a revelatory moment. After losing his sense of taste in the accident that killed Rudy he loses his appetite. No bad thing. Except he lives with the non-fat suit equivalent of Eddie Murphy’s Klumps. Cue determined efforts to shed the pounds and increased disgust and disillusionment with his own family. Something will have to be done…
Each strand of our three protagonists stories reaches an uncompromising conclusion, each one, at turns, pitiable, darkly comic, quasi-tragic and all too real. Despite the obvious inference of Jacob’s growing dialogue with his brother’s killer, he needs the friendship. They’re both outsiders. Kenny comes from a broken home, while a large large birthmark on one side of Rudy’s face scares him mentally and physically. He spends a good deal of the movie in a Freddie Kruegar-like hockey mask. Not usually a good omen. A sharp script delivers thoughtful, non-pandering portrayals of early adolescence. Our kids are likeable, confused and every bit as worldly wise as adults. They just need a bit more life-experience mileage under their belts. This little seen film deserves our attention and is more than a match for the more high profile of it ilk. Move over Stand By Me, This is England and Son Of Rambow et al there’s room for one more at the table.