By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Thirteen arrives in theaters on the kind of breathless, inflated hype that fuels the jack-off fantasies of marketing gurus. Written by Nikki Reed when she was 13, then polished up and directed by her dad’s ex-girlfriend, Catherine Hardwicke, the film is a purported warts-and-all look at the world of modern white teenage girls. But while offering some sharp, if not necessarily new, insights (mainly into the ways in which adolescent girls emotionally and psychologically terrorize one another, often under the guise of friendship), it’s far from the revelatory or radical item it’s being sold as.
Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) lives at home with her divorced, single, in-recovery mom (Holly Hunter), her brother and, sometimes, her mom’s in-recovery boyfriend (Six Feet Under’s Jeremy Sisto). Dad has a new family that takes up his time. Desperate to fit in with the popular crowd at school, Tracy pursues the friendship of Evie (Reed), the most sought-after girl and a reflexive bitch. After proving her worth by stealing some money from a careless Melrose shopper, Tracy is allowed to hang with Evie, and before you can say “J. Lo,” the two are practicing video-ho dance moves, sleeping over at each other’s homes, and practicing French kissing on each other when they’re not getting high. (If these girls were black, this would undoubtedly be R. Kelly’s movie of the year.) But alas, and unbelievable though it may seem, there is a dark side to their camaraderie. The drug use escalates, Tracy becomes a holy terror (with a dark secret), and families begin falling apart.
There’s a lot of sly, smart observation and droll humor in Thirteen, but much of it also plays like a ’50s propaganda reel. The film doesn’t negate or sidestep the land mines of modern teen life and parenting, but it often veers into Reefer Madness cautionary territory. An example of this is found in the conflicting messages about the role that race plays in these contemporary young white girls’ lives. On the one hand, their white but Ebonics-fluent school peers catfight over who has the most ghetto-fabulous booty, and Tracy (in a post-coital swoon from an interracial tryst with Tyrone or Malik or some such-named young Negro) opines that if everyone would just fuck someone of a different race, the world would be a lovely shade of brown within one generation. On the other, the film itself posits such interracial exchanges as one of the signs that we’re in the last days, with white womanhood further corrupted by a young Mandingo’s touch. (Or, more precisely, by the wad he shoots in her mouth.)
The film’s one sustained note of depth and interest is struck by Holly Hunter, fantastic, as usual, as the hard-working mom who is baffled by the changes in her daughter. Looking simultaneously stunning (taut and fit, with hair cascading over her shoulders) and like a woman whose life has taken turns she never imagined and with which she can barely cope, the actress creates a character who is sexy, engrossing and emotionally layered. More than once, while watching the film, I thought: The camera should really just turn away from those grating teen brats and follow the mom.
MADAME SATÃ| Written and directed by KARIM AINOUZ | Produced by MARC BEAUCHAMPS and others | Released by Wellspring Media At the Nuart
THIRTEEN | Directed by CATHERINE HARDWICKE | Written by HARDWICKE and NIKKI REED | Produced by JEFFREY LEVY-HINTE and MICHAEL LONDON | Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures | At Laemmle’s Sunset 5 and Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex
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