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USA 2003
Directed by
Catherine Hardwicke
99 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
5 stars

Thirteen

Synopsis: Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a sweet thirteen year old who plays with teddies, loves her mum Mel (Holly Hunter), hangs out with ‘decent’ friends and looks fairly conservative. That is until she enters junior high school and is exposed to the peer group pressure of needing and wanting to be like the super cool sexy girls of the in-group. She is drawn to Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed), the ‘hottest chick’ at school and is determined to do anything to win her acceptance. Gradually Tracy’s life is drawn into a maelstrom of drugs, sex, theft, self-mutilation, flunking school, and a premature growing up that she is ill-equipped to handle.

Be warned: this is no teen flick but rather every parent’s nightmare – a hard hitting, uncompromising look at the relentless pressures that many young girls today find themselves succumbing to, pressures which can ultimately blow families clean apart. The amazing thing about Thirteen is that actor Nikki Reed actually wrote this script in conjunction with director Hardwicke when Nikki was only thirteen, and the story of Tracy is based upon what Nikki herself went through.

Evan Rachel Wood was also only 14 when she played Tracy and had seen firsthand girls falling into the same traps through their desire for acceptance. She understands the anger, fear and confusion many girls of that age experience, and, being already a seasoned actress, brings extraordinary power to this role. Actress/writer Reed (now still only 15) has come out the other side of her ghastly experiences and so again brings an understanding and depth to her part that few others could muster. Both these girls manage to portray the multi-faceted nature of these girls/women, so adept at dressing and behaving way beyond their years, and yet underneath so vulnerable and craving of love.

The look of the film is in-your-face. It opens with a shockingly disturbing scene of Tracy and Nikki getting high on spray cans and trying to slap each other senseless. The flashback to four months earlier then takes us through the gruelling progression of events and experiences that transform Tracy. All the time the hand-held camera hugs the girls close, putting us inside their experiences and world. Everything is gritty and grainy, just like their lives. The soundtrack backs up the visuals well, heightening the sense of teenage angst, joy, aggression and exploration.

Holly Hunter empathetically portrays Mel, a mother caught between being a friend to her daughter and keeping some level of control and authority. Mel is also a richly textured character, having a younger ex-junkie boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto), who Tracy loathes, and having herself anger issues that she has not yet grappled with.

This film works on every level: as a salutary warning to parents of teens, as a searing critique of an image-driven society, and as a way of hopefully gaining insight into and empathy for girls caught between two worlds and desperate to carve out an identity for themselves.

 

 

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