A review of “Thirteen” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ****

Rating: R for extreme drug use, nudity, and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes



Indelible is the only word to describe a film experience that saw me holed up in the ladies room immediately afterwards, crying my eyes out.

The pain of segueing into adolescence and the sheer desperation to fit in pervade every frame of this coming-of-age horror show.  Thirteen-year old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is your typically awkward seventh-grader, brimming with self-doubts and a yearning to be cool.  Mom Melanie (Holly Hunter) is a divorced recovering addict whose affectionate guardianship is marred by the complications of running a fly-by-night hairdressing business out of her home and raising two teenagers on next to nothing.

All hell breaks loose when the school’s most popular bad-girl deigns to include a vulnerable Tracy in her inner circle.  Evie (young co-writer Nikki Reed) is every parent’s worst nightmare --- abandoned by her folks and masking her insecurities with recreational drugs, shoplifting, and sexual experimentation.

Things go from bad to worse in a cinematic hurry.  Tracy transforms from a shy adolescent who worships her Barbie collection into a smart-alecky, rebellious hellion.  Her anger is palpable, towards Melanie and her on-again-off-again lover, her absentee dad, and the whole rotten world. Runaway hormones accentuate all, from emblematic mood swings to failing grades.

Melanie, the hip mom who strives to be more friend than foe, reluctantly allows Evie a temporary home with her family, then watches in helpless confusion as the girls cunningly spin-doctor their way into ersatz adulthood.

Digital video lends a voyeuristic air to the proceedings, and a queasy sense of disquiet.  Wood and Reed ply a blend of disruptive anxiety and defiance whose emotional fury positively aches. Hunter is phenomenal, tough-as-nails on the outside but gullible enough to get sucked into the vortex with her dissolute daughter.   

 “Thirteen” is based on Reed’s real-life adolescent experiences (gulp).  She co-wrote the film with family friend and director Catherine Hardwicke, who ran away with the coveted Director’s Award at this year’s Sundance Festival.  Raw and compelling, “Thirteen” is mandatory viewing for anyone who is raising, will be raising, or has raised a teenager.