THIRTEEN can easily be considered every parent’s worst nightmare for their adolescent. In the movie, 13-year-old Tracy enters middle school and quickly surmises what it takes to be the hot girl on campus. She abandons her long-time friends for her new best friend, Evie, the most popular girl in school. Within days or weeks, Tracy transforms from a sweet and respectful girl with stuffed animals and dolls on her bed to a drug-using, caustic and angry teenager willing to do anything to secure a permanent position in the in-crowd.
Tracy, perfectly played by Evan Rachel Wood, fearlessly enters this dangerous phase with wild abandon and hormones raging. It is as if she is venting years of pent up anger about her parents’ divorce and her bio-dad’s neglect. Her mom, Mel (stunningly portrayed by Holly Hunter), gets the full brunt of Tracy’s rebellious teenage rage. Later, it is heartbreaking to watch Mel realize she is helpless to control or reach her daughter.
Evie moves in with Tracy, lying to Mel that she is physically abused at home, and the two girls’ relationship grows unimpeded. Unknown to Tracy, Evie is sexually attracted to her and takes occasional opportunity to show her affection (though Tracy downplays these overtures). Even Mel gets a seemingly innocent kiss on the lips from a thankful Evie, but she also ignores the warning flags clearly going off in her head.
Evie wastes no time to teach Tracy about the social practices and obligations of the ultra-popular. Together, they lie to avoid classes and homework, parade through school to garner attention from the boys, steal in their spare time, enjoy wild shoplifting sprees, sell and use drugs, date older guys, freely offer casual sex, and wear body piercings as proud badges of their teenage defiance and independence.
They ditch friends, parents and, eventually, each other in their pursuit for their own happiness or gratification. Their actions are beyond cries for help: the girls know what they are doing and each blindly rush down their destructive paths. Within this time, Tracy has gone from honor student to failing seventh grade.
Mel tries to intervene but is a struggling single working mom. She lives on an emotional edge herself, attends 12-step classes with a friend, and seeks refuge in the company of her new boyfriend. Tracy despises the boyfriend, or despises her mom being happy. In THIRTEEN, Tracy radically redefines the concept of mood swings.
The bio-dad, on the other hand, is shown as neglectful of Tracy and her brother. He is behind on his child support payments, out of touch with his kids, and easily pulled by his job and new family. He believes that making more money for Mel and the children is the best solution, no matter the problem. Scenes like these, among so many others, make this movie very difficult to watch.
THIRTEEN feels frighteningly real. It is one of the best arguments for private Christian schools or home-schooling that Hollywood could ever devise. Of course, even these cannot protect a child intent on rebellion, experimentation or self-destruction, but the movie makes a very strong case for parental involvement.
The story concludes with Mel breaking through to Tracy and communicating her unconditional love through tears and great pain. Still, Tracy is profoundly adrift and so much damage has been done in her life. Mel believes a mother’s love can be enough to grip a wayward child, but she offers no moral grounding or spiritual foundation.
THIRTEEN was co-written by the director and 13-year-old Nikki Reed, who plays the role of Evie. The result is a story that is terrifyingly believable, filled with intensely disturbing content, and shocking to any remaining naïve parents out there.
THIRTEEN takes on beauty, family, popularity, divorce, cell phones, and adolescence with fierce abandon. It is a brutal story to watch and equally brutal to its subject matter. It presents many problems teengers face today, but it offers no compelling evidence that its proposed solutions will work. A clever series of scenes include a billboard campaign advertising “Beauty Is Truth.” As Tracy’s world spins out of control, more and more graffiti appears on these ads. It is a sly criticism on our culture’s lack of values.
THIRTEEN offers no replacement for these bad values, however. Ironically, Mel repeatedly wears a T-shirt with a fancifully designed cross on it. All the while, that cross of Christ is ignored. The name of Jesus is only uttered in vain or as an expletive. THIRTEEN is a hollow cry about lost innocence, but its real sadness is its own lack of answers.
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Fox Searchlight Pictures
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
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SUMMARY: THIRTEEN can easily be considered every parent’s worst nightmare for their adolescent because, in the movie, 13-year-old Tracy enters middle school and transforms from a sweet and respectful girl with stuffed animals and dolls on her bed to a drug-using, caustic and angry teenager willing to do anything to secure a permanent position in the in-crowd. Despite its talented cast, THIRTEEN’s hollow cry about lost innocence is drowned out by its own lack of solutions.
(PaPaPa, FeFe, HoHo, LLL, VV, SS, NNN, AA, DDD, MMM) Pagan worldview about a 13-year-old girl doing whatever it takes to be popular with strong feminist and homosexual elements; at least 106 obscenities (with 51 “f” words), six profanities, eight blasphemies, obscene T-shirt slogans, and obscene gestures; graphic violence includes teen girls striking each other’s faces for fun, bloody self-mutilation with razor and scissors, self-piercing navel shown, and tongue piercing implied; implied oral sex, couples live together, couple kisses in bed (clothed), teenage girls passionately kiss each other, other teenagers kiss, undress and fondle, teenage girl “flashes” younger boy, man barely avoids teens’ seduction, calling them “jail bait”; scenes of men and women in underwear and full female nudity; smoking; drinking and much drug use; and, lying, shoplifting portrayed as cool, stealing rewarded by other teenagers, disrespect to parents, teachers and others, teen/peer cruelty shown, divorce subtly indicted, and mom screams in frustration to her family, “You think I want to be here?!”