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Movie Reviews by S Felce and Toby White

Starring: Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Review by S Felce

Tongues sticking out from the trousers, heavy make-up, piercing and tattoos. Drugs and alcohol that would intimidate even the guys from TRAINSPOTTING. Dirty money, stealing and lots and lots of lies. The most disturbing thing? We’re talking about the life of two thirteen year-old girls.

THIRTEEN is not your regular teen movie, when a lovely and immature Sandy transforms herself into the coolest girl in school – loved and accepted by every body – by dressing up in black leather and singing a song. THIRTEEN is scary and disturbing.

What America calls ‘Girl Culture’ is a new tendency among very young girls to transform themselves into grown up, sexy women when they are barely teenagers. Catherine Hardwicke’s film takes its inspiration from the life of one of these girls, Nikki Reed, and together with her wrote the screenplay for THIRTEEN.

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is a lovely and affectionate thirteen year-old girl who lives with her divorced mother (Holly Hunter) and her brother. As soon as she starts high school she realizes she is not cool, and certainly she is not anywhere near Evie (played by Reed herself), who’s known as “the hottest chick in school”. Tracy starts working on her looks and her attitude in order to look cool and eventually to be friend with Evie. But Tracy’s transformation does not consist just of a new hair cut or new clothes. In fact, under the influence of Evie, she goes from a pierced tongue to alcohol and to heroine. She completely looses control of her life and starts failing at school becoming a drug addict, and destroying the close bond she once had with her mother.

Watching Tracy’s transformation is frightening, but it’s not as frightening as it would have been if Tracy and Evie had been more ‘average’ girls. In fact they are both from very dysfunctional families. The fact that Tracy cuts herself every time she is feeling angry gives the impression that she is not ok anyway, despite her troubles of being a teenager. Sometimes the film seems to imply that Tracy and Evie can’t find their place in society as adolescents, as they can’t find one in their own families.

However, THIRTEEN is quite an interesting film to watch. It’s a very visual movie, with MTV cutting and strong, heavy music accompanying the scenes, like a rock video or a scene from a catwalk. Moreover, THIRTEEN is a rollercoaster of mixed emotions, from pity to anger. It will open lots of discussion, in which, unfortunately, the main protagonists won’t be able to take part. In fact the movie is being given an ’18’ certificate’ in the UK.

Teenagers will have to, once again, just listen.

5 out of 6 stars

Review by Toby White

There’s something inherently wrong with asking someone if they “enjoyed” a film. Sure, it can apply to most, after all cinema is a cheerful, joyful, escapist form of entertainment but as a universal expression of appreciation, “I really enjoyed it” can hardly be applied to something like THIRTEEN. It sits in the genre of social realism movies that always seem to lean towards the more depressing aspects of society. (Quick aside: why can’t comedies be socially realistic? You could easily have a movie that is totally founded in reality and isn’t about drink/drugs/abuse/bigotry/murder/mayhem and, more importantly, you can say you enjoyed it. For isn’t laughter social?)

Winner of the Directing Award at Sundance, Catherine Hardwicke’s film is a gritty, visceral portrait of a young teenager’s life going off the rails as she switches Barbie dolls for bongs in an effort to scale the ranks of coolness at school. Shot in a grainy, over-exposed hand-held fashion (a bit overdone now, to be honest – although it works so why not) it really does grab you from the outset: two girls, high as a kite, slapping and punching and laughing at each other in an effort to counter the numbness from aerosol propellant is quite an opening.

The controversy it seems to have courted when it came out in the States would appear to be justified. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but think of Larry Clark’s KIDS as more of a shocking take on early teen angst – particularly during the first half as Tracy descends the slippery slope – but then how many ways can you portray that? There’s drugs, sex, drink, theft, cigarettes- that’s about the extent of teenage rebellion so it’s not as if there’s a wealth of material to play with. One can easily assume the cynical attitude and say that we’ve seen this all before and isn’t it terrible but do please change the record etc etc but what is significant about this film is that it was co-written by 13 year-old Nikki Reed (also playing Tracy’s bad influence, Evie) and much of her experience features in the action. That makes it frightening. Every parent’s nightmare frankly.

The fact that I can’t say I enjoyed THIRTEEN by no means suggests its a bad film. It’s not. Technically it lags in places and the action seems disjointed and often rushed but the overall impact does exactly what it sets out to do. It may seem a little OTT for some but the message is clear and unassailable; the perils of peer pressure, the stresses of school life and the timebomb of rebellion at home waiting to happen. There’s definitely an uncomfortable feeling one gets while watching this even if one can’t relate to it at all: what if that was/is/could be my daughter?

So, no, not enjoyable. But as a debut film, with such calibre as Holly Hunter and such understanding in dealing with the subject I would say, however, I appreciated it.

3 out of 6 stars