12 and Holding (Michael Cuesta). 94 minutes. Opens Friday (June 9). For venues and times, see Movies, page 123. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
If Michael Cuesta 's film career is any indication, he must have had one miserable childhood.
Cuesta's first feature, 2001's haunting L.I.E., dealt with teenage sexuality and pedophilia in a blunt enough way to leave viewers shaken. His second, 12 And Holding , paints puberty as another queasy, hellish journey from which no one emerges unscathed.
After an accident kills a 12-year-old boy, his twin brother Jacob ( Conor Donovan ) glumly moves from one adolescent obstacle to the next. His best friends, the overweight Leonard ( Jesse Camacho ) and the sexually confused Malee ( Zoë Weizenbaum ), also deal with the death in their own awkward way.
Cuesta was smart enough to cast underused actors as the film's few adults ( Bruce Altman , Linus Roache and Annabella Sciorra , for starters). But the script heaps an implausible amount of misery on the younger characters. And after Malee develops feelings for an older man and Jacob finds a gun, the film's tone shifts wildly. Cuesta and writer Anthony Cipriano can't decide whether they're making a suburban satire or a mawkish drama.
Cuesta has a knack for eliciting complicated performances from young actors. Donovan and Weizenbaum do their best to carry the weighty material, but the film's muddled vision makes it hard to appreciate their efforts.