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Thirteen

Reviewed By Dennis Swennumson
Posted 07/06/04 04:46:12

"Something many may not know- teenage girls rebel."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A genre that really hit full stride and saturation in the 80’s, the teen movie has proven itself repeatedly to be a surefire box office entity, allowing studios to cash in consistently on what is supposedly teen America’s current trends. Unfortunately these movies are typically mediocre sex comedies, half-hearted coming of age stories or a dreadful combination of both categories. Recently there has been an uprising of acclaimed movies that go against the manufactured grain. “Blue Car”, “Raising Victor Vargas”, “Elephant”, and “Better Luck Tomorrow” are all films with considerable entertainment value that present teen issues with candor, integrity and sometimes controversy.

“Thirteen” has reaped most of the attention in this wave of quality independent films for its unblinking portrayal of middle school girls hurtling out of control as they grow up way too fast. It makes a claim to be the most honest and accurate examination of early adolescence ever put to film, as it was co-written by one of its sixteen-year old actresses, Nikki Reed. That assertion is mostly true, the movie does accurately present middle school as an uncomfortable time of transition and uncertainty, when many turn from who they were into what they think they are.

The film’s main character, Tracy, begins to experience this change on the first day of seventh grade. She is introduced to Evie Zamora (Reed), the most popular girl in school, leaving a trail of overcharged hormones wherever goes, and instantly admires her. Quickly Evie adopts Tracy into her clique; they take off on exploits where shoplifting and purse snatching are the common activities. With the help of the over-experienced Evie, Tracy’s transgressions snowball, the pair become increasingly acquainted with drugs, alcohol, and all of their related activities that would terrify unsuspecting parents.

The shining aspect of “Thirteen” is the acting talent on display. The performances of Nikki Reed and Evan Rachel Wood deserve respect; they attack the requirements of obviously difficult roles with boldness and maturity. Director Catherine Hardwicke has said that casting was one of the hardest elements of the film’s production, many actresses abandoned the role of Tracy after their parents discovered the subject matter the part entailed. Holly Hunter plays the mother in the film’s best performance and most unique character. Here the parent is not a villain, through the initial awkwardness she embraces the idea of her daughter growing up. Holly Hunter was deservedly nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a woman reeling from the deterioration of a relationship where she once identified with her daughter.

The content of “Thirteen” and what occurs during the descent of Evie and Tracy is enough to inspire most parents lock up their daughters until the age of 21. Though the depiction of cliques and the dynamics of their general expectations and unwritten rules and how they affect the individual is pretty dead-on, the movie is an outright exaggeration. It’s well known teens usually develop new self-images and alliances after arriving at middle school, but the plot of this film is a case of the most innocent girl imaginable being digested by the worst crowd possible. It even boils down to the story’s setting, the amount and type of trouble a teen can find living in a smaller town is of considerable difference to a teen living in Los Angeles. “Thirteen” is built upon a realistic foundation, but the film is a work of fiction, there has to be some entertainment value to keep us interested in the story. The idea that teens take part in activities that would alarm their parents obviously isn’t a new concept; it’s a common aspect of life.

“Thirteen” is a testament to the ways natural teenage rebellion can occur without the need for police intervention. The film was initially conceived when Hardwicke, a good family friend, took note of the difficulties Nikki Reed and her parents experienced while she went through this period. To curb Reed’s own tailspin, Hardwicke suggested that they write a screenplay about middle school life and Reed’s experiences.

As the movie progresses, it seems that Hardwicke loses sight of her initial inspiration and simply plays to the shock value. “Thirteen” is a pretty good, not great, examination of the difficulties and pratfalls of modern teenage life.

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