The title of Michael Cuestra's second film (following his acclaimed debut L.I.E.
) is one hundred percent literal: the three main characters of 12 and Holding
are twelve years old. They are troubled, manipulative, industrious, acutely sensitive, and more grown-up than the flailing adults who are supposed to guide and protect them. In their possession, they have a loaded gun.
Jacob Carges (Conor Donovan), Leonard Fisher (Jesse Camacho), and Malee Chung (Zoe Weisenbaum) are a close-knit trio of friends/misfits. Jacob, a timid twin, is mistakenly considered disabled because of a red birth mark that covers half of his face. Good-natured Leonard is the fat friend; his entire family is obese and meals are regular gluttonous feasts. Malee, the Chinese American daughter of divorced parents, is the overachiever, a precocious girl who wears glasses and plays the flute. The group accepts their designation as outcasts in an orderly social world--until a tragic event takes place in their own backyard.
Zoe Weizenbaum and Annabelle Sciorra in 12 and Holding
Conor Donovan, who bears the responsibility of playing both the role of Jacob and his identical twin Rudy, gives a remarkably nuanced performance. In addition to creating two opposing personas, the young actor quietly enters the territory of grief and vengeance. Zoe Weizenbaum, however, nearly steals the film with her painful and lovely turn as Malee. Defying expectations, her actions are stunningly nervy, from an extraordinary flute solo to the carefully calculated seduction of one of her psychologist mother's patients.
Michael Cuestra, who explored a painful sexual awakening in L.I.E., seems to have deep insight into youth; rarely do the complex lives of twelve year olds receive such thoughtful consideration. Anthony Cipriano's intricate screenplay skillfully follows the three divergent but equally compelling story lines. Jacob, Leonard, and Malee, confronted with death at an early age, respond differently when forced to recognize their own mortality. Writers are often encouraged to provide moments of ephinany and revelation for their characters; 12 and Holding provides three transformations, and each is not only convincing, but also moving.