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Twelve and Holding
Reviewed by Dennis Morton

Decades ago, when rocket launches were big news, and often televised, it was not uncommon for a countdown to be interrupted a few seconds before ‘lift-off’, and the launch postponed.

The title of the film, Twelve And Holding, invokes the similar idea of suspension, a holding back. Twelve And Holding tells the stories of three children on the cusp of adolescence. A tragic event at the very beginning of the movie colors and interrupts the ascent of the three protagonists.
This film was made with a very low budget. As if to inoculate us from having to repeatedly note that fact, Director Michael Questa makes it conspicuously obvious in an early scene.

Bullies have pursued several of the protagonists to their tree house sanctuary. The bullies start to climb the ladder, thinking they’ve trapped their quarry, but they meet with an unpleasant surprise. Rudy, one of the enterprising boys in the tree house, has been micturating in a bucket. He’s stored up several days’ worth and as the bullies climb the ladder, Rudy pours the amber liquid over their heads.

And this is where Director Questa lets us know he’s working with only a pocket full of change. The liquid splashes onto the lens of the camera, surely one of the oddest deus ex machina devices ever filmed, if my theory is correct. And even if it isn’t, the effect was the same for me. From that point on, production values ceased to be of importance. I focused only on the stories of the three 12 year olds and their families and acquaintances.

And fascinating stories they are – involving incipient sexuality, guilt, grief, loneliness, abandonment, chance, an accidental death, revenge, various compulsions, and more. Michael Questa is suggesting, I think, that life never was simple, that there may never have been ‘the good old days’.
But if there are grown up challenges these young people must negotiate, there is also love, compassion, innocence, and decent intent to balance the scales. The point is - most of us enter adolescence unprepared for life’s baffling complexity. And parents are all too often a part of the problem.

It is the accidental death at the beginning of the film that forces the characters to confront emotional and psychological and physical challenges for which they are not prepared.

Leonard, played beautifully by Jesse Comacho, must come to grips with his obesity, and his family’s. Jacob, a twin with a large red birthmark on his face, must deal with issues of self worth, guilt, grief, and revenge. We can be forgiven for wondering if Jacob’s blemish is a variation on The Mark of Cain. And Malee, a very precocious 12 year old, has just officially crossed the bridge to puberty. She proudly announces that she is now capable of conceiving a child. Indirectly, the death, around which all the stories in Twelve And Holding swirl, brings her in dangerous proximity to an illicit encounter. Malee is played by Zoe Weizenbaum, with an intelligence and sensitivity uncommon in an actor of any age. It’s a remarkable performance.

Because Michael Questa deals directly with many issues that most directors would never touch, he will be accused, I suspect, of sensationalism, or worse. But for me, this film works. He does more, with less, in this movie, than most directors will ever dare.