Rating: Somewhere between a B and a B+.
Summary: Mean Girls, but with less laughs, more angst, more sex, and more drugs.
Thirteen is one of those movies I’ve always wanted to watch but could never bring myself to watch it due to its heavy subject matter. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown, Twilight), written by and starring Nikki Reed, and also starring Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen is an extremely dark and controversial story that depicts the sense of seclusion that comes with teenage angst. Just to give you an idea of how far this movie takes its subjects (including sex, drugs, self-inflicted harm), Thirteen was rated R on its release when the two stars were under the age of 15.
That being said, I recommend you don’t watch if you aren’t in the mood for or are bothered by expletives, graphic images of self-harm, or severely broken households. However, if you are looking for some insight and accuracy of what it’s like to be a teenage girl (but like, why? Being a teenage girl is terrible!), watch this.
You must also have several ounces of compassion when watching this movie. I swear, one of the most annoying things adults would say when I was younger is, “You’ll grow out of it.” Or “You’ll get over it.” “These are the best years of your life!” Nope. NOPE.
The movie begins on a familiar scene- Tracy (a stunningly gifted Wood, 15 at the time of filming) desperately wants to befriend Evie (Reed), the most popular girl in school who uses people to her benefit- and boy, does she find someone willing to go to great lengths to impress her. We get some more details a little further in. Coming from a broken home and seeking a place of belonging, Tracy easily falls into a pattern of acting out, body modification, eating disorders, theft, drug use, and sexual activity, in addition to her habit of self-harm.
I was surprised to see this was written by Reed, who is mostly known for her role in the Twilight movies and based the script off her own life (slightly exaggerated). Evie is portrayed as a master manipulator but the movie is told from Tracy’s perspective- Evie comes from an equally broken family but isn’t given much attention or sympathy. This isn’t an issue- written by a young teenager, about a young teenager, someone who is going through exactly what we are seeing- Thirteen captures the emotional trauma that can come with the difficulty of puberty and fitting in- a subject too often taken as a phase, with common responses of “grow up” or “they’ll get over it.” Thoughtful and careful treatment of the characters gives Thirteen a serious and tender tone.
The script is perfectly complimented by Hardwicke’s documentary style, which uses lots of handheld technique to capture the instability of Tracy’s life, as well as grainy texture and use of lighting. Hardwicke does an outstanding job of conveying the aura and atmosphere with authenticity. The mood and look feel as Tracy does and instantly sets the tone for whatever it is she is feeling at the time. What the characters might see as just a phrase or gesture can immediately be sensed as a cry for help by the audience. This is further emphasized by Wood, who I’ve been a fan of for a while. One of the reasons I wanted to watch this was to see her earlier work- but she’s just as talented then as she is now. We get a lot of scenes with just Wood quietly thinking to herself and she does a lot of work with simple, subtle nuances, providing the exact amount of innocence, curiosity, maturity, and immaturity one would to play Tracy. It’s a haunting and poised performance, impressive for an actor of any age. Also on the table is an amazing performance by Holly Hunter, who plays Tracy’s mother, who balances a nice obliviousness, patience, and affectionate nature.
I was pleased with the accuracy of the movie, down to the style of clothing (those flared jeans!) and what was trendy (Evie) and what wasn’t at the time (I was more of an early Tracy, minus the pigtails) (it helps that they used Wood’s and Reed’s own wardrobes). I mean, this is what every young girl goes through when they’re in middle school- self-doubt, self-loathing, rare moments of confidence, then back to self-doubt. Though the lengths Tracy goes through are a little much (seriously, ALL those things?), the movie really does feel like the end of the world for her character, as teenage girls are prone to say. Though we’re taught to think other people’s opinions of you aren’t important, validation and peer acceptance is everything at that age- Thirteen provides an affirmation that feelings and emotions at this age do matter. When researching the movie a little bit further, I was surprised to see the number of parents lashing out: “I thought this was a movie about kids for kids! I rented this for my daughter and was shocked!” Dude, it’s rated R. If anything, Thirteen is a movie for YOU to watch to open up your eyes and make you more empathetic with what your young one may be going through.