Just when sending your daughter to the convent seemed like cruel punishment.
Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to begin her first year in junior high and in order to do it right, she’s got to get rid of her past life. That means no more studying, no more nerdy friends, no more playing with Barbies, and sure as hell no more being lame! And in order to be seen as “cool”, or “hip”, or whatever the kids are calling it nowadays, Tracy latches right onto the most popular girl in school, Evie (Nikki Reed). This also means, that to ensure that she stays cool, Tracy will have to do all sorts of scandalous stuff that the old Tracy would never even dream of doing. Meaning, there’s a lot of sex, drugs, booze, and stealing, all of which, Evie and Tracy seem to absolutely love doing together. However, the one person who isn’t quite the biggest fan of what Tracy’s up to, or Evie either, is Tracy’s mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter). Although Melanie and Tracy did, at one time, have a very strong relationship, she sees that dangerously slipping away now and will do anything to get that love back. That is, before it’s too late and she’s lost Tracy to the deep, dark world of rebellious 13-year-old girls!
Thirteen is, and also isn’t, is an after school special. If you’re going to place it in a specific sort of subgenre to make it appeal more towards a target audience, then yeah, Thirteen can definitely be considered an after school special. Kids are acting up in all sorts of mischievous ways here and ultimately, get lessons learned, and it all feels like something you’d see tuning into either on Lifetime, or TLC.
The difference between Thirteen and those other movies is that, well, it doesn’t hold back.
Thirteen is the kind of coming-of-ager that Larry Clarke would soon one day love to make, but can’t help himself to actually create because he’s too concerned with pubic-hair and unsimulated sex scenes; there’s so many scenes where barely legal (or, not at all) kids are participating in sexual activities, drug-use, cutting, hitting, and drinking, that it’s more than enough to make you want to turn away. And sure, while we know that everything these kids are doing are, in fact, fake and put-on for the camera, co-writer and director Catherine Hardwicke shoots it in such a realistic manner, that it can sometimes feel like a documentary. Which definitely works in the movie’s favor because it helps make it seem like this is a tale that any person can, has, or will, experience.
Being thirteen and going through all the sorts of problems that 13-year-old goes through, isn’t just limited to one gender, race, or belief; everybody goes through teenage angst at least once during their life. Sure, some bouts with angst are a lot more serious and vicious than others, but still, the fact remains, most people, when growing up, usually tend to face a lot of problems and commit acts that they won’t be looking back on in ten or so years, with any sorts of smiles whatsoever. But, in a way, that’s fine, because that’s just how life goes sometimes. What matters most, though, is how you bounce back from all that that makes you, well, who you are.
That’s why Thirteen doesn’t ever, not for a single second, ever judge its characters for what they’re doing, even though it would have definitely been easy to do.
That Tracy falls hook, line and sinker for Evie as soon as she sees her make fun of her, and wants to start talking, dressing and acting like her, only makes sense because when we’re young, that’s all most of us want to do. While we may not want to be the most popular kids in school, we still want to have that feeling of being accepted, or part of some clique that we can hang around with when life can get us down. That’s why when Tracy starts doing all of the things that Evie’s doing and without ever hardly putting up a fight for what she believes to be right, either, it’s hard to be really mad at her. She may be a bit of an a-hole to the rest of her family, but when were any of us ever nice to those who loved and cared for us at that age, huh?
Hardwicke is smart though in giving us every single little gritty detail about Tracy’s transformation, without ever trying to turn its head. There’s plenty of moments that she could have definitely done so and we wouldn’t have at all blamed her (like the cutting scenes, for instance), but she doesn’t, and that, above everything else, she deserves credit for. Not to mention that Nikki Reed, who also wrote the screenplay with her, deserves even more credit for not just turning in a great performance as Evie, but for also making a great script that feels smart and nonjudgmental – something that may have not been easy to do as a 15 or 16-year-old girl, which she was at the time.
But really, it’s the two performances from Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter that I continue to come back to.
In the case of the former’s, Wood’s great here because she feels like a real teen, actually diving as deep as a girl like her would dive into being accepted. There’s never a moment where she seems like she’s over-acting, or demanding all eyes to be on her; and even if she does, it’s intentional, because that’s probably what her character wants people to do at that same very moment. It’s no surprise that Wood’s a great actress, but after seeing her work here, it makes me wish that she’d be making more wonders in adult-hood. She’s clearly got the talent, all she needs is another juicy role to make people remember what she’s been able to do since she was, hell, 13.
As for the later, there’s no denying that Holly Hunter is a class-act in whatever she does, but here, she’s especially so. With Hunter’s Melanie, we get the real heart and soul of the movie; while a solid majority of the movie is centered around useless acts of sex, drugs, and small-time crime, the heartbeat at the center that keeps it pulsing, is actually Hunter’s Melanie, who never turns her daughter away or down for whatever it is that she demands. While she may give her too much freedom at times, she’s only doing it because she genuinely wants her daughter to be happy, no matter what. She’s the kind of mom that every person probably wishes they had (minus the ex-drug use, of course), which makes it all the more painful to watch it when, time after time, Melanie reaches out to Tracy and, time and time again, she continues to get denied and have everything shoved back into her face.
But that’s just what growing up is all about. Be prepared.
Consensus: Despite it seeming like something you’d see after school, Thirteen is a more believable and honest coming-of-ager that doesn’t pull any punches, but is better off for that, too.
8 / 10
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