Twelve And Holding

on May 19, 2006 by Susan Green
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A sort of "Stand by Me" for the 21st century, "Twelve and Holding" may help explain why poltergeists select the prepubescent demographic for their otherworldly mischief: A child on the threshold of adolescence is a powder keg. One year later, as Catherine Hardwicke made abundantly clear in "Thirteen," it's thar she blows. But confusion, rebellion and feisty hormones are already simmering under the surface at age 12.

The three young protagonists in director Michael Cuesta's sophomore feature -- his underground sensation "L.I.E." came out in 2001-- undergo profound changes after a collective tragedy in their suburban community. Rudy (Conor Donovan) is accidentally killed when local bullies torch his tree house in the woods to retaliate for an earlier encounter. Although overweight Leonard (Jesse Comacho) survives the conflagration, his gluttonous parents are outraged by the boy's sudden desire to exercise and eat nothing but apples. The death fuels a family meltdown that torments Rudy's twin brother Jacob (also Donovan), who wears a hockey mask to hide an enormous birthmark on his face. An enamored Malee (Zoe Weizenbaum) begins stalking Gus (Jeremy Renner), a construction worker being treated by her psychotherapist mother (Annabella Sciorra).

"Twelve and Holding" wants to wring humor from screenwriter Anthony S. Cipriano's unhappy scenarios, but how clever are clich├ęd visual fat jokes about Leonard's hefty clan or cringe-inducing shots of Malee trying to seduce a grown man? To drive home the movie's pyrotechnic theme ad nauseum, the girl continually listens to "Burnin' for You" by Blue Oyster Cult in her obsessive pursuit of Gus, a former firefighter. Emotionally abandoned by their parents, these kids are not all right. And Cuesta's overkill approach to black comedy, reminiscent of the hyperrealism Gregg Araki uses in "Mysterious Skin," allows cheap laughs to subvert understanding and compassion for his troubled tweens. Starring Conor Donovan, Jesse Comacho, Zoe Weizenbaum, Jeremy Renner, Annabella Sciorra, Linus Roche and Jayne Atkinson. Directed by Michael Cuesta. Written by Anthony S. Cipriano. Produced by Leslie Urdang, Michael Cuesta, Brian Bell and Jenny Schweitzer. An IFC release. Drama. Rated R for violence, language and sexual content involving minors. Running time: 95 min

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