I am a passionate fan of 80's kids’ movies. Goonies, Stand By Me, Explorers, Space Camp, Monster Squad, Cloak and Dagger, Labyrinth, and several others occupy coveted slots on my all-time list. While I enjoyed recent kids’ movies such as Harry Potter, Super 8, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they never captured the magic of those older films.
Is it just me? There's a certain hollowness in the modern kid flick. Something missing. The movies follow all the formulas. However, like recreating your grandparents' heirloom recipes, an intangible quality is always missing. Is it the uber slickness that comes with an astronomical major motion picture budget? The high def, count-the-zits image quality? The computer generated effects? I really don’t know the cause. But the result is the notably absent charm that once oozed from the movies of my childhood.
"They just don't make movies like they used to.” Nooooooo! Am I becoming Granddad? If for nothing else, I search for the illusive, magical, modern kid flick to stave off my inevitable transformation into a jaded, grumpy old man. Netflix's insidious AI is well aware of my quest. And it is always happy to guide me through the harrowing wilderness of its immense catalog towards possible holy grails.
This morning I was distracted by a little, 2005 independent film called Twelve and Holding. Yep, fucking Netflix debo'd my free-time once again. Curses. Twelve and Holding, however, was just good enough—just awkward and quirky enough—to compel me to throw it out there: Is this the Great White Buffalo?
From my introduction you might expect Twelve and Holding to be a whimsical frolic through a magical world of wonder. Not even close. It's easily the most twisted kids film since Stand By Me—maybe ever.
I'm not even sure that some would categorize Twelve and Holding as a kid flick other than the fact that it stars three kids. Murders, seduction, cursing, guns, violence. And charm, don’t forget the charm. Hell, I'd let my kids watch it, but I'm also not a parent. If you consider Stand By Me and The War to be kid flicks, which I do, then Twelve and Holding fits somewhere in that category.
Here's a spoiler, Rudy (Connor Donovan), the compelling and strong-willed main character, dies in the first ten minutes. There's a writing gamble. He's accidentally burned alive in a fire set by the neighborhood bullies. This early and unexpected event sets a high bar for Twelve and Holding, which rarely adheres to the beaten path of kid movie clichés.
Following Rudy's untimely demise, his twin-brother Jacob (also Connor Donovan) and his friends, Malee (Zoe Wizenbaum) and Leonard (Jesse Camacho), split the lead role fairly evenly as they cope with the loss. Each character has their own feature-worthy subplots.
Jacob struggles with his brother's death and plots revenge against the imprisoned bullies. He lacks his twin-brother’s self-confidence because he’s embarrassed by the massive "birthmark" that envelopes the left-side of his face. I used air-quotes because Jacob's facehugger shifts shape, color, and position throughout the movie. A quiet and meek kid, Jacob attempts to channel his brother's strong persona.
Malee lives a cold and lonely childhood. Her single and disinterested mother, Dr. Carla Chuang (Annabella Sciorra), is largely to blame. Malee turns her attentions to Gus (Jeremy Renner), a dude at least twice her age, who doesn't exactly tell her to bugger off as he should. Her journey of sexual discovery is at all times awkward and occasionally uncomfortable, but it never crosses the line into exploitation.
Leonard was also injured in the fire that killed Rudy, which causes him to lose his sense of taste. This leads Leonard to diet and exercise as he battles against his family's inferiority complex. They accept that they will be fat and miserable and ridicule Leonard for attempting to change. He plays a seemingly typical fat kid role, but his story goes far beyond the cliché.
The kids’ acting is, thankfully, a thousand times better than the franchise-killing skills of child Anakin (Jake Lloyd) from Star Wars I: Phantom Menace. While most of the acting ranges from decent to good, what truly separates Twelve and Holding from the usual kid flick is the brilliant script. Writer, Anthony S. Cipriano, pulls no punches and tells a brave story that refuses to examine childhood through the veil of nostalgic longing.
Here are the Top 3 Scenes from Twelve and Holding. Take heed. I am spoiling three amazing scenes from a movie that I loved and will highly recommend at the end of this review. You've been warned:
1. You Handed the Gun To Him?!
Malee acquired a gun from a place that I will not reveal, lest I ruin the Second-Most Painfully Awkward Scene in the movie for you. Somewhere in Malee's decidedly unbalanced, 12-year-old mind she figured that the most trustworthy person to hold onto a fully loaded handgun was Jacob.
Obviously Malee has never read a comic book. If she did, then she’d know that the last person who should ever acquire a weapon is the one with a red, disfigured face and a revenge complex. The universe will rue the day that Malee gave Jacob a gun. Rue.
2. Flip the Script
Malee made a fumbling sexual advance on Gus. He did the right thing by turning her away and calling her mom. Here's the twist, Malee's mom, Dr. Chuang, is also Gus' psychiatrist. This leads to a wonderfully uncomfortable therapy session.
Gus plays no games in this anticipated showdown. He immediately confesses that he knew that Malee was crushing on him and did little to discourage it. Dr. Chuang should, by all rights, crucify Gus for toying with the emotions of her little girl.
Then, in a brilliant scene, he convincingly flips the script on Dr. Chuang. He becomes the therapist and Malee's mom becomes the patient. Gus' explanation isn't quite an alibi that Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC would accept. But Gus' actions back his perceptive analysis that leads Dr. Chuang to ultimately repair her relationship with her (ADOPTED *ahem* sorry) daughter.
3. Run Fat Boy!
What kids movie worth its weight in Tato Skins doesn't have a funny fat kid? Leonard proudly carries the fat kid torch handed down from heroes like Chunk, Vern, Ham, and Horace. Have you noticed that all fat kid actors become anorexically thin adults? It's a fact.
Leonard might be my favorite fat kid since Chunk. He doesn't revel in his portliness by doing Truffle Shuffles or Pie Eating Contests. Instead, he battles against his obesity. And he does this on his own will, which is a refreshing change-up from the ‘usual fat kid forced to fat camp’ bullshit that's shoved down our throats by unoriginal writers working the cheap laugh.
It was difficult to narrow down Leonard's scenes to one favorite. All of them are fantastic and help break up an otherwise deranged story. I suppose Leonard's workout scenes stand above the rest. He's rocking the sweats, he gets himself worked up, the music amps, and Leonard runs. Ten seconds later, he collapses from exhaustion. It's a simple and unexpected treat that continues throughout the story.
Twelve and Holding is like a vagina fart. It's awkward and embarrassing, but somehow endearing. You sense that Director, Michael Cuesta, enjoys making us squirm in our seats as we watch this film. It's uncomfortable at times—raw, but always charming. The movie's unpolished feel complements its story of three gawky pre-teens stepping into adult situations for the first time.
Twelve and Holding is not quite the Great White Buffalo of modern kid films, but it gives me hope that such a film exists—it’s that close. The movie captures the unmanufacturable charm of my old favorites, but only its edgy awkwardness hinders its rewatchability. Take note SOPA-pushing, Major Movie Studios, this is how you make a kid film.
This movie is easily the Stand By Me of the Aughts and deserves a wider audience. I despise the term "Aughts" as a label for 2000-2010, but there it is in all its glory. And I now hate myself for advancing its pop-culture validation in this paragraph. As for the movie: Highly Recommended.
Ten Netflix Randomness Bonus Points if you can spot Larry Appleton from Perfect Strangers in this movie.