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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Thirteen

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: August 2003
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Nikki Reed, Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Tessa Ludwick, Kip Pardue, Cynthia Ettinger, Jenicka Carey, Deborah Unger, Ulysses Estrada

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

So Arnold Schwarzenegger is going to run for governor of California after all. He'll have his hands full. Imagine taking authority over a whole state when, if invited into the Valley home of Melanie (Holly Hunter) and her 13-year-old daughter Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), he'd go out of his mind in a matter of hours trying to govern just one teenager! A stronger person than Arnold is needed for this awesome feat, and the girl's mother simply is not that person.

In her directing and screenwriting debut, Catherine Hardwicke worked with the film's co-star, Nikki Reed, who co-write the script based on her own experience as a thirteen year old. This time, though, Reed performs in the role of Evie, the adolescent who helped lead Tracy down the path of righteousness into a hell of sex, drugs, and rap.

As Evie, Nikki Reed has no problem gaining influence over her disciple given the absence of strong supervision by her caring, but confused mother who is too busy going to AA meetings and cavorting with her formerly addicted boy friend (Jeremy Sisto), who is just out of rehab. For his part, the boyfriend can scarcely fill the shoes of Melanie's ex-husband, who is too busy running a business to give proper attention to his daughter or even take advantage of visitation rights.

"Thirteen" is a no-holds-barred film that may have been inspired by Larry Clark's even more ferocious 1995 film "Kids," likewise a cinema verite-style depiction of teens on the loose, hedonistic and devoid of proper parental supervision. Clark, however, is so graphic that he's been appropriately accused of exploitation. By contrast, "Thirteen" looks every bit believable.

Everybody knows that adolescents, for all their energy, are going through a difficult time experiencing lows as frequently as they are ecstatic. What's remarkable here is how suddenly Tracy undergoes a transformation from being a good, seventh- grade student able to write poetry but shunned by the hot crowd in her junior high to a hottie herself, a girl who befriends Evie, the hottest (and therefore the coolest) student in the school. Influenced in part by the plethora of sexy billboard ads for perfume, underwear and the like pushing the idea that the right clothes can bring you the American Dream, Tracy is further induced to belong to the smart set in her school when she joins Evie on a shopping spree, shucking her girl-next-door threads for navel-exposing tights with money gained from purse- snatching and goods from shoplifting. Convinced by Evie that homework should center on how to kiss and then some, Tracy takes up with some of the fast guys in the school, smokes, scores coke, ignores schoolwork, curses her frazzled mom, and indulges paradoxically in masochistic behavior, making incisions in her arm with a pair of scissors. She gets her tongue and navel pierced and ringed, acting out from a desire to get back at her ineffective mother as much as to be with the fast kids in seventh grade.

We didn't need "Thirteen" to wake us up to the dysfunctional family trend. We knew that mommies and daddies were not all like the Beavers even since Aeschylus informed with his "Agamemnon" some 2500 years ago. But director Catherine Hardwicke never portrays Tracy as a lost cause. We sympathize with her, a young innocent being brought down by a more sophisticated albeit malevolent mentor, and want to believe that once Evie gets out of her life, she will do an about- face. Cinematically, though, the 16mm camera should break its amphetamine habit. Elliot Davis's lens is so jumpy it appears to have been mentored by Daniel Myrick's in "The Blair Witch Project," and should have occasionally settled down now and then to a few minutes of peace and contemplation.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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