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Fri September 12, 2003
Be prepared for an unusual, unsettling, and unforgettable movie.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
If you are planning to have children, don't see this film. It is so depressingly effective you might decide against children rather than attempt to deal with a 13-year-old daughter. So difficult is Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), who is a former good girl under the influence of a worldly slut Evie (Nikki Reed, also co-writer), that she is painful to watch as she descends into the pit of drugs, sex, and adult bashing.
Tracy's mom, Mel (played to trailer-trash perfection by Holly Hunter), runs a baby-sitting service to supplement whatever other income she can gain. After one set of parents and children leaves, she exclaims, "A $2 tip, and they ate half the lasagna." Hunter's ragged resignation reveals the almost-hysterical responsibilities she has, and that's not counting the trouble Evie is bringing to the household.
First-time director Catherine Hardwicke, formerly a production designer for "Three Kings" and "Vanilla Sky," is successful in creating runaway chaos by skillfully using a hand-held cameras, disorienting tracking, and washed-out shots. She is less successful in keeping the narration flowing, relying on anecdotal storytelling that feels episodic rather than unified. Also, the accumulation of tragic turns, while undoubtedly true in more instances than I could know, is too much for my aesthetic appreciation. True though the events may be, there are too many in too short a time.
Critics cite by comparison Lucas Moodysson's first feature, "Show Me Love" (Otherwise titled "Fucking Amal"), where the lesbian relationship between its 2 teenagers makes the story eccentric rather than universal. In "Thirteen" the lesbianism is played down, but there is no escaping the fear and loathing for almost all who experience the teenage years in its many other experimenting forms.
Jane Erskine Stuart said, "In no order of things is adolescence the time of the simple life." "Thirteen" will leave you wondering how a simple life could ever evolve after those tumultuous years. Be prepared for an unusual, unsettling, and unforgettable movie.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.