12 and Holding
Michael Cuesta’s 12 and Holding is a film about how children and adults can both fail to successfully deal with the same problems. Be that as it may, what comes across is a string of clichés tied together by what feels like a storyline embedded with characters reacting to their drama as if they’ve been diagnosed by a Psych 101 class. The movie has all the elements necessary to be a grand spectacle of emotions, suffering mixed with anger mixed with more suffering, but it doesn’t take the time to let its audience smell the pathos before shoving its nose in it. Antoine Doinel doesn’t deal with half of the tragedy in Francois Truffaut’s 400 Blows that the children in 12 and Holding must overcome; yet, Truffaut unsentimentally sinks his film deep in his young character’s heart and patiently portrays his loss of innocence in a manner that doesn’t feel unnatural or contrived.
DVD Review: 12 and Holding
After one of their peers dies, three pre-teens and their families are forced to cope with life after the event. The movie that follows the incident splits into three parts and though one sticks to the original sequence, the other two travel far on their own tangents, so much so, that the original impetus only distantly relates to the problems the other two children confront. The divergent plots of three kids break off from each other early in the film and never truly come back to make them feel as a whole, often seeming like separate movies.
As the characters react to their changing lives, they too often verbalize their thoughts in a simplistic manner. A son says to his parents that they love his sibling more than they love him, a girl complains to her mother that her estranged father doesn’t want to see her, and while these are serious issues, the movie blatantly wears them on its sleeve, rather than as subtext. The old adage ‘show don’t tell’ is missed in too many parts of the film. This, accordingly, goes back to how the psychological reactions of the characters seem less organic than merely standard movie fare. While the events in the story may be unique, the responses of the characters give the movie an unoriginal quality.
The film’s central idea is that all of the people in it are looking for something to heal their emotional wounds. The DVD has a commentary by its director that might be better than the film itself, as Cuesta discusses this theme and its surrounding motifs. Unfortunately, they are not bound together firmly enough to make the movie’s ends meet. If you want to see a film about a family’s struggle with love and justice, watch Mystic River. If you want to see a movie about an adolescent dealing with loss, watch E.T. If you want to see a movie about children losing their innocence, watch Truffaut’s film or Jean Vigo’s Zero for Conduct. Combining all of these doesn’t give you 12 and Holding. Sadly, 12 and Holding only provides a longing for more, because settling for a director talking about the ideas behind a film doesn’t make up for watching a movie that uses them boringly.
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