THIRTEEN

 
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. USA. 2003.


 


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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 In an opening scene, two giggling teenage girls get high and slap each other in the face until each draws blood. Thirteen introduces us to the modern teenager where the idea of fun is light years away from the days of Gidget when all girls wanted was to have fun in the surf. Directed by first-time filmmaker Catherine Hardwicke, Thirteen was inspired by actual events in the life of co-author 13-year old Nikki Reed and won the award for Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. The film takes us on the wildly careening path of two teenage girls as they attempt to navigate a society where the ultimate goal is, in the author's words, to be "anybody to be somebody".

Shot with a hand-held digital video camera in just over 26 days, the camera swoops and tilts to the girls every movement, conveying the image of lives spinning out of control. Before we can get our bearings, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is transformed from a sweet and introspective straight A student to a trash-talking, manipulative follower after befriending Evie (Nikki Reed), the hottest girl at Los Angeles' Portola Middle School. When Tracy steals a woman's purse and goes on a shopping spree with Evie, it is only the first step in the gradual disintegration of her personality. Evie convinces Tracy and Melanie to let her move in with them, claiming that the boyfriend of her guardian Brooke (Deborah Kara Unger) beats her. Tracy's turnaround is shown in a rapid-fire succession of events: tongue and belly button piercing, bare midriffs, makeup, experiments with drugs, sex with cool black boys, and self-inflicted wounds to her arm with razor blades.

Tracy's family is concerned but distracted by their own personal issues. Melanie (Holly Hunter) is an ex-alcoholic who works at home as a hairdresser and lives with her boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto), a recovering cocaine addict. The father is divorced and rarely comes to see Tracy and her younger brother Mason (Brady Corbet) due to business pressures. Holly Hunter is convincing as the well-intentioned but naive mother whose idea of being a parent is to be her daughter's pal. Even when she realizes something is very wrong, she fails to fully comprehend what is going on around her. As Tracy begins to descend further into her private darkness, Mel becomes more confused and her repeated entreaties to Trace that "we have to seriously talk" end up in screaming matches. 

Thirteen urgently explores young girls' vulnerability in a culture where they are seen more as a commodity than for the totality of who they are, and where their personal discovery is buried in a world of sex-drenched advertising and exploitation. Although sex, drugs, and body modification have been increasingly common with teenagers for years, the film, unfortunately, ties together a litany of "taboo" behavior designed to instill fear into parents, making no distinction between normal acting out and serious behavioral problems. While Thirteen successfully puts to rest the Hollywood stereotype of the polite and perky teen, in refusing to provide more than a superficial understanding of Tracy's behavior, it suggests a similarly false image of a helpless teen without a moral compass, at the mercy of "bad influences". In hinting that there is no legitimate way for teenagers to express themselves outside of accepted parental values, Thirteen is as shortsighted as Maurice Chevalier's singing to Leslie Caron 45 years ago "thank heaven for little girls, so helpless and appealing".

Howard Schumann
 
 
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