Thirteen

Thirteen is a film telling the story of three characters, two of whom are thirteen years of age, while the other is the mother of one of these teenagers. The teens are Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), a straight A student who longs for being popular, and Evie (Nikki Reed), one of the students that Tracy idolizes. The mother’s name is Melanie (Holly Hunter), who raises Tracy and her brother with her boyfriend, a recovering cocaine addict.

Tracy’s family life is broken, we see this from the very beginning. She hates her mother’s boyfriend, (Jeremy Sisto), and is also mad at her father, who left them for reasons that go unexplained. She and her brother (Brady Corbet) fight often, while her mother is too busy with work to pay proper attention to her. This relationship is the second most interesting one in the film. The first is Tracy and Evie’s.

Evie is a popular student who has a lot of friends and seemingly has a lot of fun. She’s also very devious, tricking people into feeling sorry from her — a talent she uses often. She’s also a bad influence, although how much Tracy needed to be influenced is something that you’ll have to find out for yourself. In order to become friends, Tracy had to steal a purse from someone, so that the girls could go on a shopping spree. After that, they became best friends. This happened a little too quickly for me, but I decided to roll with it.

You have no idea how glad I am that I decided I wasn’t going to let this small blemish ruin the film for me. What resulted was an amazing story of how good people have their lives ruined by both unfortunate circumstances and by others. Peer pressure, addictions, destroyed home life and self-mutilation all get their time to destroy these characters’ lives, and since these people are all flawed, interesting, but still on the whole fairly likable, we care what happens, and hold our breath when they do things that they shouldn’t. It’s like if Requiem for a Dream had likable characters.

Essentially what happens is this: Tracy begins her decline fairly early in the film, with the theft of the purse. From there, she does drugs, smokes, drinks and gets involved with older men. You know, all of the things that thirteen year olds aren’t supposed to do. Think of something bad that could happen, and there’s a good chance it will be featured in the film. She and her mother begin fighting even more frequently than they did before, with Tracy ending up spending a lot of time in her room, with Evie.

Evie effectively moves into Tracy’s room, another thing I didn’t quite understand. When I wanted to have a sleepover, I had to ask and have it approved by both parents way ahead of time. Here, Tracy just has Evie stay over for a few months. No big deal in this household. But then again, cursing, smoking and staying out as late as they want is fair play to, so I guess an impromptu, multiple month-long sleepover isn’t too far-fetched. Just color me jealous, I guess.

Speaking of color, as the film progresses, it becomes less saturated. It was a nice touch, I thought, representing how disconnected Tracy becomes with reality. The constant abuse of her own body eventually takes a toll, causing her to fail school, lose friendships, and all the other negative consequences that come from abusing substances. At one point, she remarks that she can’t even remember how to spell the word “photographer.”

Thirteen is a very sad story, one that is wonderfully told. We understand why these characters react the way that they do, and while we can’t approve of their actions, we get the rationale behind them. Both in the writing and the acting, the characters continue to bring us into their psyche, and we rarely have a time telling what’s going on inside their heads. The film was co-written by one of its young stars, Nikki Reed, who claims that the film is partially autobiographical (although in real life, she was in the “Tracy” role). While I wish that it isn’t, I don’t have a hard time believing that most of the events in the film actually happened, because of how real they feel to us.

Of the actors, I only have one thing to say: They’re brilliant. The two young leads, who were 14 at the time, were tremendous, but also incredibly strong was Holly Hunter, who seems to be exactly like a struggling mother would be in real life. Everyone here is believable in their roles, and for a while, I forgot I was watching a movie, and not the lives of two teenagers. To me, that’s the ultimate way to know if a drama succeeds, and Thirteen certainly does that.

If there’s a problem with this film, it’s that there’s not enough of it. Some things happen too quickly, and there are a couple of points that don’t make complete sense. There’s a point in the film where a couple of tough kids bully Tracy, but show up just for that one scene, and then are never seen from again. And then there’s how quickly some relationships get as strong as they do, which leads me to believe that there was a lot of content cut out from the final product. I wanted more, which is another indication of the film’s quality.

I was so happy that I watched Thirteen, even if its story wasn’t a joyous one. It was just such a good film that I will probably watch it again really soon. The acting was great, the writing kept me in the heads of the lead characters, and I sometimes forgot that I was watching a film. I was fully immersed, and only noticed the relatively minor problems after it concluded. Thirteen is great and I think you should go seek it out right now.

One thought on “Thirteen

  1. I didn’t like this very much when I first saw it, but after I grew up a little and began working with youth it really blew me away. There’s so much in the movie that seemed weird to me at first (the friend randomly moving in is a great example), but I was shocked by how much I heard real people telling me similar stories to what the movie showed.

    Oh, and I definitely agree that they glossed over some parts – the relationships move really quick, and could have been fleshed out in a longer movie.

    I can’t watch this one often now, because it’s a little too powerful due to work, but it definitely wows me when I do.

    Great review, glad you dug it.

    The Mike

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