12 and Holding

A few months ago, after watching David Gordon Green’s “George Washington,” I went to IMDB.com and low and behold, “12 and Holding,” directed by Michael Cuesta, was listed as a recommendation. So, having generally liked “George Washington,” I happily put “12 and Holding” into my blockbuster.com queue and waited, and waited, for it to arrive (it was rather far down the list).

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting with this little indie flick, probably something like “Stand By Me” (a childhood favorite of mine), but well, this wasn’t it.

The film begins with a group of friends/misfits that have adorned the silver screen since projection began: twin brothers Jacob and Rudy (both played by Conor Donovan), Malee, a terribly precocious girl (Zoe Weizenbaum) and Leonard (Jesse Camacho), an obese kid. Rudy is the de-facto leader of the group, mainly because he’s always looked out for his brother, who has a prominent birth mark over half his face.

Because of said birthmark, Jacob is constantly being teased by some neighborhood bullies, Jeff (Martin Campetta) and Kenny (Michael C. Fuchs), so much to the point that the bullies tell them they’re going to destroy the kids’ tree house. It’s too much for Rudy, who, with Leonard, camps out at the tree house to protect it. And here we approach our tragedy; Kenny and Jeff throw Molotov cocktails into the tree house, unaware of the boys inside. Leonard escapes, but Rudy is burned alive.

From this point, our three friends begin to cope with this loss in their lives; Leonard, having lost both his sense of smell and taste, decides to get himself in shape. Malee meets one of her psychiatrist mother’s patients and decides to pursue her hopeless crush on her “soul mate.” Jacob, seeking closure, visits his brother’s killers in juvie and torments them with photos of Rudy and promises of vengeance.

I can buy that; this first part of the film feels real, like this is what these kids would be going through. What soured me on the film is what happens next, the second stage of the kids’ grieving process. At that point, which I won’t spoil, the script, by Anthony Cipriano, takes the kids to extremes and it feels like the filmmakers were trying way too hard to be edgy and shocking when simplicity would have served the story better.

There’s a lot of good here, but too many bad twist endings and whatnot have left me a little weary of coming-of-age films that are just too sensational and too unbelievable. Stick with “George Washington,” which I think hits the same notes of youth and grief with a lighter touch and a more believable outcome.

“12 and Holding” (2005)

Directed by Michael Cuesta

Written by Anthony Cipriano

Starring: Conor Donovan (Jacob/Rudy)

 Jesse Camacho (Leonard Fisher)

 Zoe Weizenbaum (Malee Chuang)