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IN SHORT: Serious movie time for this year starts here. [Rated R for drug use, self destructive violence, language and sexuality - all involving young teens. ]
We've written many times of our disdain for the filmstudent-think type of movie that idolize themes so unpleasant that they were (sometimes) unbearable to sit through. Every once in a while we plant for something that contains unpleasant themes and find surprises. Here we go ...
If we were interrogated at a party we could hypothesize that, say, most thirteen year olds wouldn't have too many interesting stories to tell-- of course we've not been thirteen for years and, given three extra decades, have a helluva lot more stories to tell now and would venture the same for any grownup, regardless of how boring we may think our individual lives are. Since much of the story seen in writer/director Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen is taken from the real life experiences of co-writer/co-star Nikki Reed, we now know that our hypothesize would be wrong . . . and, with the exception of the film's very last shot, which made no sense to us whatsoever, we can honestly describe Thirteen as one of the few arthouse targeted indies that was enjoyable enough that we urge you to seek it out. Make no mistake, Thirteen is no "lightweight movie" movie. It has more negative aspects to its story and plot than positive but (strong emphasis on the but) it also features terrific characters and terrifically impressive performances by its pair of young stars.
Those would be Evan Rachel Wood as a still-on-the-child-side of thirteen Tracey, and her soon to be new bestest friend, the most popular girl in school, Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed). Tracey is the smart kid who, like most arrivals in 7th grade, is in a new school. Instantly obvious to her is that Evie is the big fish on campus. Trend setter. Fashion plate. Mover and shaker. One who can make or break a new kid, socially. In the world of Girl Culture, Tracey literally wears the "wrong socks" and so is a loser. A clothing change and quick diss for old friends gets our social wannabe an invitation to go after-school shopping with Evie and her clique. Like an initiation, the "shopping" is shop-lifting. From there on in it's a quick move up to parties and pill popping, sexual experimentation and petty theft and closing the door to keep mom out.
Mom (Holly Hunter) works out of the house, giving haircuts, but she's as blissfully unaware of her daughter's changes as her son is suspicious. Mom knows kids get crazy as puberty kicks in so she's willing to give Tracey way too much room to play. As well, she's always believed her daughter is her friend (as opposed to a growing human who needs parameters and guidance). Mom's boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto) is an object of Tracey's hated for the simple reason that he's not dad (though there isn't a great deal of love seen for the dad who walked out on mom for a younger woman). Both of the adults are card carrying AA members, she for booze and he for coke.
On the other side is Evie's actress/model/bartender mother-substitute (Deborah Kara Unger) -- what that means is explained twice in conflicting ways, one of the few failings in a script which, at least on this point, should have kept it simple. Don't as us to explain it. If we could it wouldn't be important enough to note. -- supplies one of the most clever story twists we've seen in a while, deep in the Third Act and thus not revealed here. It's strongly suggested that Evie has already been through the wringer as an abused kidlet, though she's so good at telling tales we're not sure we believe her. Either way there's a strong sense that Evie is just pulling Tracey down a path she knows all too well.
Tracey's fall from grace takes place across the course of one school year. Hardwicke's screenplay rushes from event to event, which means it sometimes falls a wee bit short on character exposition and explains some of our confusion regarding Evie's backstory. Reed and Wood's onscreen interactions are riveting and overwhelm any quibbles we may have, form wise.
Parents be warned, this is not a film for any teenkid. It is a warning sign to those of you that have teenkids. Were most of the actions seen in the film not based upon Nikki Reed's real life antics, we don't know that we could have bought into the story we saw on screen. Then we thought about it. Thirty years back we started messing around and we were only fourteen then. Parents be aware.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Thirteen, he would have paid . . .
Again, Thirteen is a truly difficult sit. It's also a riveting one. We're repeating ourselves too much. 'nuff said.
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