As in his 2001 debut L.I.E., Michael Cuesta again shows a strong and sympathetic affinity for kids on the cusp of adolescence. Twelve isn't so dark, but it also isn't so focused as L.I.E., where Brian Cox's chicken-hawk wanted to get in the pants of a 15-year-old boy. In the same sort of suburban anomie-land, we get three different dilemmas for three younger kids: a girl (Zoë Weizenbaum) crushing on a construction worker; a chubby kid (Jesse Camacho) who declares war on his family's eating habits; and a bereaved twin (Conor Donovan) who tries to forgive his brother's killer. It's like watching three different TV shows—dramedy, comedy, tragedy—after your TiVo has been dropped on a concrete floor.
Weizenbaum, a budding young Chinese-American actress also seen in Memoirs of a Geisha, is the find of the picture, and hers is the only story you want to follow. (IMDb.com informs us that she was born in Seattle, though now lives in Massachusetts.) Her overly bright Malee is a dork princess in the making, a character who deserves a platform like My So Called Life. She spars with her psychiatrist mother (Annabella Sciorra), misses her runaway father, and sets out to seduce the wary but friendly construction worker (Jeremy Renner) by serenading him with Blue Oyster Cult's "Burning for You"—played at a school assembly on the flute! For all those years of trying, Jethro Tull could never make that instrument work in concert, yet somehow she totally rocks.