Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Holly Hunter, Brady Corbet
The official movie-industry-rating description for Thirteen sums up why this film makes adults squirm: It's rated R "for drug use, self-destructive violence, language and sexuality -- all involving young teens." In other words, this is one of those movies about teenagers that we don't want teenagers to see, and they probably will anyway. All we can hope for is that life won't imitate art too many times. But if Thirteen serves as a wake-up call to even one parent, then its art is salvation realized.
Thirteen is terrifying. See it if you detect complacency creeping into the state of our country's family values. See it if you think single moms don't really have it so hard. Most of all, see Thirteen because it's the most risky, innovative, provocative movie that's come along in a long time. You'll notice that the audience doesn't talk on the way out of the theater after viewing this movie. It takes a while to recover.
As a piece of filmmaking, Thirteen is stunning. It's a spectacular debut from writer/director Catherine Hardwicke, who earned her Hollywood stripes as a production designer on 17 previous films. Shot on digital in handheld home-movie style -- with supersonic cutting, an ass-kicking soundtrack and spellbinding performances all around -- Thirteen pulls out all the filmmakers' technical tricks. But it's not all style -- this film is truly as deep as it is flashy.
The story is based on what Los Angeles co-writer and co-star Nikki Reed went through when she was a seventh-grader. No, that's not a typo: This movie is about junior-high children, 13-year-old girls who one day were playing with Barbies and wearing sweatshirts with cute bunnies, and four months later are practiced sexual performers, whacked out on drugs and booze, showing off piercings in their ears, tongues, navels, and heaven knows where else.
Going into the new school year, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood, Little Secrets) is a sweet kid, distraught over her parents' divorce, grossed out by her brother Mason (first-timer Brady Corbet) and at odds with her mother Melanie (Holly Hunter, The Piano), a recovering alcoholic who's doing the best she can to keep a roof over her two teenagers' heads. Tracy wants to shed her tacky, childish persona and soar into grownup coolness like her idol, the sexy-but-seriously-troubled Evie (Nikki Reed in her acting and writing debut). Thus, Tracy becomes an all-too-willing partner in an addictive path of heroine worship, inexorably descending into a peer-pressure hell that glorifies instant gratification and demands a never-ending supply of trendy fashions and paraphernalia to feed the "Beauty Is Truth" monster advertised on every shop corner.
Melanie eventually discovers the truth of what her little girl has become, and slams face to face into her own failures. But all other adults in Tracy's world -- her father and teachers -- remain uninvolved bystanders. They observe the child's aberrant behavior, but it never quite registers. They never seem to get it -- that Tracy is only a gelled-hair's breath away from killing herself.
The question for the Thirteen audience then becomes: Do we get it? Can we see the danger signs? Do we have the courage to intervene?
-- reviewed by Marci Miller