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Thirteen is a
lot like its protagonists: difficult, way out of control, yet ultimately sympathetic. It
opens with two 13-year-old girls, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Evie (Nikki Reed), getting
high on inhalants, laughing as they literally beat each other up in the privacy of
Tracys bedroom. Things dont let up in the next 100 minutes, as writer/director
Catherine Hardwicke, in her feature debut, flashes back to the origin and development of
the girls wild relationship.
At the beginning, the shaky camera work and insanely quick cuts are
annoying. But as the film rolls on, theyre less jarring and pretentious or is
it theyre less noticeable because the movement really does illuminate the terrifying
actions of these self-destructive kids?
Wood (of televisions Once and Again) and Reed, who
co-wrote the film based on her own experiences (lets hope shes okay now),
brilliantly portray the troubled adolescents with throbbing intensity. At the outset,
Tracy is a seemingly normal Los Angeles seventh-grader who writes angst-ridden, good
poetry, and more or less communicates with her mom, Mel (Holly Hunter), a laid-back
hairdresser who works on clients at home, and who happens to have a reformed drug addict
Like many a junior high student, Tracy is seduced by her schools
most popular girl: gorgeous Evie, who flaunts her rebelliousness on her pierced midriff.
Evie initially spurns her, but Tracy wins her way into the fast group by stealing a wallet
and taking her cohorts on a shopping spree on Melrose Avenue. The girls are master
manipulators at getting and doing what they want, while managing to hide their dangerous
activities shoplifting, drugs, piercing, lap dancing, oral sex, cutting themselves
from their parents.
Evie becomes a mainstay at Mel and Tracys house, and though Mel
seems to believe Evie has a guardian, the audience doesnt necessarily until
the wasted woman actually does pop up, offering gems of discipline like telling the kids
to limit themselves to one beer apiece.
Yet the film progresses beyond shocking scenes of girls behaving badly.
The conflict between parents and teens needs and priorities is played with
convincing complexity in Thirteen, making that along with fine
performances its strength. While Mel certainly wont win any parenting awards,
shes isnt entirely absent, as is Tracys dad, who shows up for two
minutes at Mels request, asks "Whats the problem?" then races off to
his next appointment.
Hunters gritty performance illustrates many a mothers
all-real dilemma, a familiar problem amounting to a matter of time and energy. Although
Mel doesnt ignore Tracy she takes her shopping and allows Evie, with whom she
bonds, to stay at their house shes also busy with her clients and friends,
and her not-half-bad boyfriend, a fellow recovering addict.
While Thirteen doesnt represent so-called typical teen
behavior any more than The
Lizzie McGuire Movie does, the movie does reveal the precarious balance of family
dynamics and how gaps in connections could lead to the beginnings of destruction.
Thirteen is no after-school special with a pat message for
kids, but it compellingly sheds light on a terrifying world, and in the end, suggests
there's hope for survival.
- Leslie Katz