Thirteen: Growing Pains

IT’S HAPPENING SO FAST.

It’s bad enough to be a thirteen-year-old boy. But it always seems as if it’s even worse to be a thirteen-year-old girl – or perhaps the parent of one. Some of these kids are strong enough to fight back the temptations that will lead them to possible disaster in the shape of drugs, crime and teen pregnancies. Others are too weak to resist. Usually it comes down to who your parents are and under which circumstances you were brought up. This film offers no new insights, but credibility and incredibly strong performances.

Tracy Freeland (Evan Rachel Wood) is 13 years old. She’s been raised without a father (he uses his job as an excuse not to maintain a good relationship with his children), but she has a loving mother, Mel (Holly Hunter), who works hard to try and provide for her children. The movie clearly shows why Tracy is in danger. There’s no real role model in her life. In her misguided attempt to be her daughter’s buddy instead of a parent, Tracy’s mom won’t set boundaries. The lack of money in the household also breeds malcontent. Tracy is doing alright, but as she enters her teens she grows a taste for anarchy. Enters Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed), the coolest girl in school. She smokes, swears, lies, cheats, steals and uses drugs, which should be enough for any sane person to stay away, but Tracy suffers from the handicap of being 13 and makes sure to become Evie’s new best friend. Under her influence Tracy becomes a second Evie, temporarily losing her soul in the process. Mel is much too weak to respond in time and even falls for Evie’s outrageous lies and manipulatory behavior. But as the girls’ relationship grows stronger, it is also about to be challenged by the lengths Evie is prepared to go.

Nothing alien about it
First-time director Catherine Hardwicke, previously a production designer on many movies, wanted this film to have a realistic feel, which is probably why she’s opted for a handheld camera. It’s grainy and shaky, but we do feel like we’re in a L.A. working-class neighborhood. The story sounds pretty obvious, but everyone involved has made sure to stay true to realistic circumstances. There’s nothing alien about the situation; many teens as well as parents will recognize what’s going on in the film and hopefully wince at the sight of the stupidity on display. The girls may put on makeup, wear thongs and smoke but adults must remember that they are still just children unable to deal with the realities of life in a responsible way. Hardwicke wrote the script with Reed, who turned 15 in 2003, and the collaboration skilfully captures differing viewpoints. In the end, there’s a risk of Reed’s character turning into a complete villain, but that is narrowly avoided.

The acting is just outstanding. Hunter gives her strongest performance in years as the clueless mother who finally steps up and does exactly what Tracy unknowingly needs her to do. Wood and Reed make no false moves as two essentially different girls who go for a ride together. They are all the most important ingredient in a compelling drama that ends in a gripping and possibly hopeful way.

Thirteen 2003-U.S. 95 min. Color. Produced by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Michael London. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Screenplay: Catherine Hardwicke, Nikki Reed. Cast: Holly Hunter (Mel Freeland), Evan Rachel Wood (Tracy Freeland), Nikki Reed (Evie Zamora), Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Deborah Kara Unger.

Trivia: Co-executive-produced by Hunter.

Last word: “Evie was the combination of about three or four girls that Nikki knew, and actually two girls that I knew that I met a little bit later in my life. They had that kind of super alluring and intoxicating personality that’s actually very toxic. These girls that I knew just kind of moved in with me like that and you knew that if you hung out with them that night you were going to have a really fun time, but you might end up in jail or God knows where. So we combined those and then Nikki, of course, used her own fabulous imagination and powers to enliven that character.” (Hardwicke, About.com)

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