12 and Holding is a peculiar movie about children and adults in small town America. Jacob and Rudy Carges are twin 12 year olds. Jacob has a large birthmark on his face, but Rudy does not. The two brothers and their friends get into a fight with two other children, and Rudy is burned to death. The two boys responsible for his death get one year in prison, and Jacob decides to plot his revenge on them. He visits them in jail and tells them how he will kill them.
Jacob has two best friends who were also best friends with Rudy, Leonard and Malee. Leonard is overweight, but as a result of the fire, he loses his sense of taste, so he changes his eating habits and starts jogging. He becomes disgusted by his fat family and takes on a mission to improve their diet. Malee has just started her period and is becoming sexually curious: she fixates on a construction-worker she has met at her psychotherapist mother's office. He is an ex-fire fighter and he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He comes to her music recital at school, they meet occasionally, and she sneaks into his apartment. He does not initially realize that she has a crush on him, but he may be emotionally needy enough to accept her offers of affection.
The movie has a strange mixture of emotional tones. Rudy's death and Jacob's plan for revenge are very dark elements, yet other moments are much lighter, with a comic edge, veering between the uncomfortable and the jokey. When Malee sings Blue Oyster Cult's "Burning for You" for the construction worker at the school music recital, one squirms but it is also funny. But when she comes onto him, and even undresses for him, it is almost impossible to watch. At the end of the movie, when Jacob does finally get his chance to take revenge, the viewer is put in a difficult position and watches in horror as the events unfold.
Director Michael Cuesta previously made L.I.E., another very difficult film to watch. 12 and Holding is low budget without any well-known actors, but the performances are all strong, and it is a memorable movie. It traces out the damage caused by Rudy's death, and the variety of ways that his family and friends cope with their grief. The commentary by Cuesta is informative about the production details, the actors, and his motives in making the film. He also explains his justification for ending the film as he did. While the different elements the film might not fit together so well, and it is occasionally melodramatic, it deals sensitively with themes rarely addressed in popular cinema.
© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.