When I think about my life when I was 13, images of patent leather Mary Janes, my twisted Social Studies teacher, and spin the bottle come to mind. My hair was long, my attention span was short, and the upcoming 7th grade elections seemed to be the most important thing that had happened since “like, Mike got suspended for smoking cigarettes.” In the new movie Thirteen, however, my petty concerns over whether I would become the next class secretary seem miniscule next to the lives led by the main characters in the film.
Thirteen chronicles the life of Tracy, played by Evan Rachel Wood, a seventh grader whose purple and pink ankle socks and single mother’s income just don’t seem to cut it anymore. In middle school, she finds herself having to compete with the likes of Evie, newcomer Nikki Reed, who is the idol of every girl and the object of desire of every boy in school. When we first meet Tracy she’s huffing with Evie as they punch each other because neither of them can feel their own face. As Evie knocks out Tracy we are taken back just four months. The movie takes us through Tracy’s infatuation with Evie’s popularity; even Tracy’s brother thinks Evie is the hottest in school. But the young girls’ relationship is only half the central story line. The real grit lies between Tracy and her mother Melanie, played by the phenomenal Holly Hunter.
Before she meets Evie, Tracy is yearning to matter. She seems to have a relationship with her mother that is much more friend to friend than mother to daughter. Her negligent father has another family now and her mother’s new boyfriend has come fresh out of rehab to live with them. Tracy proves herself to Evie by stealing a woman’s purse, after Evie originally shuts her down with a “nice socks.” It’s with this “initiation” that Tracy’s life begins to turn upside down.
Wood takes on the role with a grace that’s reminiscent of Erika Christensen’s role in Traffic. As the camera closes in on her kohl-rimmed eyes we not only see the shoplifting, drug-addicted woman who she has transformed into, but also the girl who wore the pink socks, hugged her mother for no reason, and ached to be loved. Nikki Reed, mastering the role of Evie, co- wrote the script based own her experiences (ironically as Tracy) with Catherine Hardwicke. Hardwicke, who is making her directorial debut, reels us into the young girls’ world. We feel the drugs move through our own bodies as the camera juts and wobbles through their experiences with each other.
As the girls fall deeper into their own nightmare, Melanie is straining to find and understand the daughter she once knew. Hunter is exceptional as she tries to be the “cool mom” letting Evie become a part of the family. Even she is taken with the young girl’s intoxicating personality. Hunter shows us the naive mother’s struggle as she tries to reconcile being a woman, a mother, and a friend.
Thirteen shows a brutal view of middle school reality. You won’t find a school dance, sweet first kiss, or Rachel Leigh Cook in this teen movie. It’s a mother’s nightmare, but a film critic’s dream.
Archived article by Alyssa Cohen