Film review by: Witney Seibold
The script for “thirteen” came from a collaboration between the director, Catherine Hardwicke, and a thirteen-year-old friend of hers, Nikki Reed (who also stars in the film). It’s amazing how much skill and talent went into a script that is, in essence a J.D. Flick; one of those cautionary Juvenile Delinquent films from the 1950s, or an after-school special from the 1980s, in which one small sin can lead to a life of drugs, sex, and piercings. I don’t want to discredit the film’s co-author because of her age: the film was based on her own experiences, and this screenplay was no doubt incredibly refreshing and therapeutic for her to write. However, the film does display a lack of maturity. Simply showing bad behavior doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re saying something about it. Reed should watch “Kids” or “Bully” and understand that, behind all of Larry Clark’s lecherous gazes there is a comment of moral emptiness.
Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood in a luminous performance), is a typical thirteen-year-old. She’s quiet and awkward, yet longs to run with the cool kids. She is asked to go out shopping one day by one said cool kid, Evie (Reed). As we all know, theft, smoking, taking drugs, dressing sexy, and overall Doing Bad Things are paramount in the world of Cool, so Tracy is soon doing all these things much to the delight of now best friend Evie, and much to the chagrin of her poor clueless mother (Holly Hunter). It’s not long before the girls are performing oral sex on older black guys, snorting cocaine, and screaming at the tops of their lungs whenever an adult shows the least bit of concern. Evie manipulates people by claiming abuse. Tracy, in the only implied character depth, is a cutter; she cuts herself in moments of distress.
The acting in this film is quite good, especially on the parts of young Wood, and Deborah Kara Unger, Evie’s legal guardian, a dried up stripper. Hunter is great as usual, but she has a rather thankless job in being the Inattentive Mother. And it’s in these scenes with Hunter that the film’s weaknesses are the most obvious: the adults are all clueless whiners who don’t pay attention to their kids, so it’s no wonder that the young’uns are behaving as they are.
It’s pretty obvious that this is the way that teenagers see adults, and not the way adults actually behave. No one’s character or behavior seems to be really addressed. It’s a strongly and confidently made film, even occasionally quite moving, but it has little to say.
The film also had a racist streak that bothered me. The girls’ sins involve messing around with older boys, most of whom were invariably black. Black people are treated as exotic sex objects. It’s not obvious, but it feels nasty.