Synopsis: Anxiously trying to fit into the peer pressure cooker environment of junior high, thirteen-year-old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) goes to shocking lengths in order to befriend Evie (co-writer Nikki Reed), the most popular girl in school. Now the two are inseparable-and incorrigible-leaving Tracy’s desperate mom (Academy Award® winner Holly Hunter) powerless to rescue her from a whirlwind of drugs, sex and crime.
eyelights: its strong performances. its gritty realism.
eyesores: Tracy’s quick transformation. its abrupt ending.
“Hit me. I’m serious, I can’t feel anything, hit me!”
I got lucky.
Thirteen was a rough time for me. Things weren’t going well at home, I rebelled, things fell apart at school, my life was in a downward spiral. I got into a little bit of trouble, but nothing too serious, and I never fell into drink or drugs.
I got lucky.
Strangely enough, in my pre-adult life, every time I started fraternizing troubled kids, they would drop off the map before they had a serious influence on me. I’m not religious, but if anyone had a guardian angel, I most certainly did then.
I got lucky.
But not everyone does: in ‘Thirteen’, Tracy starts junior high as a promising young student, but she trades in her naiveté for a walk on the wild side – keen as she is to emulate her platonic girl crush, Evie, the sexiest girl in her school.
Soon she’s doing anything to impress Evie and her friends so that she may fit with their crowd. And, within a short while she’s stealing, shoplifting, drinking regularly, doing all sorts of drugs and taking part in sexual activity with boys.
But, most of all, she’s left all of her former friends behind for a close-knit relationship with Evie, is in constant conflict with her brother and mother, and her academic life is so shot to hell that she’s about to be held back for an extra year.
Obviously, I don’t know what it’s like to be a 13-year-old girl, especially in this day and age. But Catherine Hardwicke’s film (which she co-wrote with then-14 years old co-star Nikki Reed) felt real to me; I could imagine this happening.
Most of it is stuff that could have happened to me. The key difference is that girls use sex to attract boys’ attention and sometimes become active well before they’re ready. Boys seek sex for its own sake, though they too may not yet be ready.
Otherwise, all the other risks are the same.
Being a kid isn’t easy. Even with proper supervision and guidance, most of us don’t have the self-awareness to face the world; it’s so vast and overwhelming. And with the internet now, it’s become even more daunting, now seas of possibility.
How do you find your way?
In ‘Thirteen’, Tracy isn’t even the beneficiary of decent mentorship: Melanie is a recovering alcoholic hairdresser who’s well-intentioned, but who has attachment and boundary issues. She wants to be the cool mom and is blinded by her needs.
Tracy’s dad isn’t in the picture; he’s busy getting his career going and he can’t even be bothered to spend time with his kids over the weekends anymore. So there’s no chance that he’ll come to the rescue when Mel asks him to take Tracy for a while.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it’s all too common. Though it borders on cliché, some of this was based on Reed’s own experiences, and it reflects the reality of many kids. I can think of a few myself just off the top of my head.
For many, this speaks a truth.
‘Thirteen’ is driven forward by the stellar performances of Holly Hunter as Melanie and Nikki Reed as Evie. Hunter is so good as the determined but shaky mom, and Reed balances sweet and naughty with just enough measure to sell us the part.
What’s surprising to me is that Evan Rachel Wood is the breakout star of the piece. When I first saw it, I thought that she was decent, but I felt that she didn’t transition from good girl to bad very well. She’s grown so much as an actress since.
Speaking of transitions, I didn’t quite believe the rapidity of Tracy’s transformation. I don’t know if it’s the director’s fault or the script’s, but we didn’t really get to see her (thus far) hidden desire to be a bad girl. She looked like pure innocence.
So what happened? When was the seed sown?
But this is a very minor gripe against a film that is near-perfect in its portrayal of teenage troubles. There are different adolescences and different approaches to each story, but this particular tale probably couldn’t have been told better.
A motion picture like ‘Thirteen’ reminds me of how blessed I am to have gotten through the teen years damaged, but not decimated. I’m still standing. I’ve walked out of the ruins of my childhood scorched and scarred, but proud and ever defiant.
I got lucky.
I wonder if Tracy did.
Date of viewing: May 22, 2017