12 and Holding

Michael Cuesta's debut feature L.I.E. was such a critical darling that I suppose it's only to be expected that his followup, 12 and Holding, would get a drubbing by those same critics for not being as auspicious as its predecessor (which raised eyebrows as its most likable character was a pedophile). Thus when walking into 12 and Holding, advance critical notice prepared me for a disappointing film (and I actually think L.I.E. is overrated; Brian Cox's phenomenal performance aside, its daring story is diluted by a predictable and moralistic ending). I wound up pleasantly surprised.

12 and Holding is not a great film, but it is an interesting one, with fine performances from a trio of adolescent actors who portray three seventh grade misfits in New Jersey. All are affected by a horrible tragedy: two bullies set fire to a treehouse owned by twin brothers, unaware that one of the twins and his obese friend are inside it. The twin dies; the obese kid escapes.

The surviving twin, who suffers from a large birthmark on his face, dreams of revenge. The obese kid – his sense of smell and taste gone after his escape – decides to get in shape, much to the shock of his disgustingly overweight family. Their mutual friend, an Asian girl whose white mother is an aloof psychiatrist, deals with her budding hormones by flirting with a twentysomething construction worker who is helping build a new house on the land where the treehouse once stood.

While all three storylines end rather too neatly, there is genuine sympathy here both for the children and, eventually, for the broken adults that they lock horns with. (Jeremy Renner as the construction worker is especially good; it's a shame he's not getting more leading roles.)

As I said, it's not a great film – Michael Cipriano's dialogue is a little overwritten (the kids keep talking like adults), and Pierre Foldes' score is uneven – but as expectations are everything, I appreciated 12 and Holding more than I expected to, and for that I do recommend it, though not strongly.