Combustible Celluloid
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With: Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Holly Hunter, Jeremy Sisto
Written by: Catherine Hardwicke, Nikki Reed
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
MPAA Rating: R for drug use, self-destructive violence, language and sexuality -- all involving young teens
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/17/2003

thirteen (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Not Another Teen Movie...

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Adults can always remember what they did and how they felt as teenagersthemselves, but it's difficult to remember just how quickly moods canchange and how intense everything is. Catherine Hardwicke's new filmThirteen is a startling reminder.

Every teenager's life is depressing, but Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) gets double her share when her good looks and bare midriff suddenly elevate her status to coolest in the school. A properly-timed bathroom trip introduces her to ultra-cool bad girl Evie (Nikki Reed) and changes her life.

It's not long before Tracy indulges in pickpocketing to gain her new friend's trust -- and piercings, body-mutilations, drugs and experimental sex soon follow.

Tracy's mom (Holly Hunter) is so involved with her boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto), freshly sprung from rehab, that she's blindsided when her daughter suddenly switches from playing with Barbie to staying out too late and coming home far from sober.

Hardwicke highlights painful moments meant to shock adults -- to whom Thirteen is mostly aimed. She chooses one in particular to start the film; Evie and Tracy snort the fumes from a can of condensed air then proceed to clobber each other in the face.

Of course, teens may identify with these characters as well, even though its "R" rating prohibits them from seeing the film without a parent or guardian. It's unlikely that many girls will suddenly become the coolest chick in school, but Reed helped Hardwicke write the screenplay, and so the moods, emotions and dialogue all ring genuine.

Hardwicke, a former production designer on films like Three Kings and Vanilla Sky, gives her first film a specific and subtle tone. The colors grow more and more muted as events spin more and more out of control, and the hand-held camera is, for once, appropriate for the film's frenzy of emotions. In one scene, she literally see-saws the camera back and forth to capture a tumultuous argument.

Fortunately for the characters in the film, a climactic explosion lays all the cards on the table, and mother and daughter begin to work things out. It's not a magic spell, as in Freaky Friday, but it's still movie magic.

Despite its neat ending, this powerful film nevertheless leaves off with many troubling issues. Why do such young girls need to flaunt their sexuality? Can they possibly be so numb that they need to cut themselves? How can these poor, miserable creatures grow into responsible adults? And, are things worse today than when we were that age?

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