Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed
Directed By :
Catherine Hardwicke

It seems like we give out a lot of "A"s and "B"s on this site. I feel like the easy teacher everyone tells their friends to sign up for. I went in to see this movie perfectly ready to tear into it, and yet here I am with an "A". Maybe it's a testament to the amount of quality entertainment available these days -

In Thirteen, Melanie (Hunter) is trying to raise her family with only monetary support from their absent father. Her daughter Tracy (Wood) is just coming to that age where social pressure is encouraging her to move from stuffed animals and pastel socks to tight jeans and hoop earrings. Enter Evie (Reed), the new hottest girl in school, who's attracting all the boys' attention after having blossomed during the summer. Instinctively jealous and envious of Evie, Tracy does anything she can to strike up a friendship and follow Evie's example into young adulthood. Their relationship spurs the two on into the misadventures of youth while simultaneously distancing Tracy from her struggling mother.

Thirteen is the story of a girl's transition into young adulthood and all the pitfalls that accompany it. It is not EVERY girl's story. It is an example of the cool girl, the troubled girl, the one who used to be all sunshine and smiles when she was younger and what happened?! There's at least one in every school, and more in some. So, no, the movie's not trying to say "this could be your daughter", but it is saying "this is SOMEBODY'S daughter." This girl has a broken home, is being raised by her mother (who's struggling with alcohol, money, needy friends, and abusive relationships), is lower-middle class, is in an urban environment. These are typical statistics. This is more the "norm" now than mom and dad with a two-story house and white picket fence and two point five kids. There's a lot of hype around this movie for it being so small. A lot of people are saying it's excessive. It is. But does it happen? Yes, and more than most people probably think. It's not a scare tactic, but it is a warning, a wake-up call.

That being said, it's a fine movie. Directorial and writing debut for Hardwicke, previously a production designer, also the writing and acting debut for Reed, who had a lot of input on the script for being only thirteen! Wood is definitely an up-and-comer. The overall feel of the movie is gritty, real. All the elements - writing, acting, directing - are complementary. Without analyzing them, they make sense, they exist in a way that seems perfectly natural. The girls are giddy, the mom wants to be cool, the father wants to waltz in and be told what the problem is "in a nutshell" - and you feel suddenly uncomfortable when the scene shifts to a confrontation with drugs or sex or piercings or cutting your own arm just to feel something pure. All this is tackled straightforwardly and honestly. All the characters are flawed, and all are likable and understandable. They have motivations you can identify with, for better or worse. Few people have probably experienced the level of debauchery in this movie, but everyone can identify with a few parts, whichever they might be.

I've kind of talked a lot and said nothing in this review. Here's the bottom line: Thirteen is good. Very good. Like any movie with something to say, some people will feel it's over the top or in bad taste, and some people will get it. Those that do get it are in for a treat. We are all being raised by 30 year old kids who screw up all the time and haven't grown up themselves. How do we as a society deal with that? This is what this movie is trying to show, and it does a great job. Go see it if you can handle it.

- - Jeff Light

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