Thirteen is an exhaustingly raw film that wholly captures the gritty, albeit extreme, realities of junior high school. All the elements of teenage life peer pressure, cliques, and the grotesque struggle for popularity are finely depicted through jarring cinematography, powerful imagery (keep your eyes peeled for the Beauty is Truth poster) and eerily realistic dialogue. The entire film appears as though it was shot through a grainy blue lens, which parallels the lack of clarity with which lead character Tracy (Rachel Evan Wood) approaches her vulnerable teenage years.
Popular, uninhibited Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the screenplay) finagles her way into Tracys life after Tracy expresses her interest in the pretty Latina seventh grader. Once Tracy has completed her initiation into Evies clique by stealing a womans wallet she becomes entangled in an ever-tightening vice of teenage peer pressure. It is not long before Evie has coerced her susceptible new friend into doing drugs, having sex, and dressing in provocative clothing.
Evies diabolical intrigues go deeper than Tracys unassuming family suspects. The sweetly smooth teenager affects a fictional past riddled with child abuse and despair, all in the hopes of scoring a host to facilitate her material and emotional needs. Her affability and manipulative tactics easily sway both Tracy and her eager-to-please mother (Academy Award nominee Holly Hunter) into the near-adoption of the troubled teen.
Evies schemes border on what most suburban teenagers would call unbelievable. What brings this particular aspect of Thirteen back to plausibility is Tracys wholehearted willingness to believe Evie and embrace her nefarious exploits with genuine, youthful fervor. Tracys capacity for faith and forgiveness is what sets her, and most teenagers, apart from the rest of the world. Such teenage innocence and the quickness with which it can dissipate is a concept that director Catherine Hardwicke seems keen to reemphasize throughout Thirteen.
In the midst of Evie and Tracys growing interest in one another is the fading union between Tracy and her mother. As she desperately attempts to cling onto the quickly-dissolving bond with her youngest child, Tracys mother struggles to overcome the alcohol abuse of her past as well as a problematic relationship with her boyfriend, an ex-junkie who has recently moved back in with her.
Holly Hunters performance as Tracys unsteady mother is one of the most emotionally involved and thoroughly powerful matriarchal portrayals that cinema has seen in recent years. Her unabashed love for and frustration with her daughter reveals the utterly unequivocal relationship that only a mother and daughter can share. The film seems to imply that Tracy will survive because she has her family; a much darker future may await children like Evie, who have no familial love to back them in their pursuits.
Thirteen confirms one very sad truth about adolescence: it only takes one day or one irresponsible gesture to turn a well-mannered youth into a drug-snorting, careless creature. The intensity with which Tracys dissolution progressed left me feeling as though Id aged forty years and was in dire need of a lengthy nap all this within ninety minutes! Thirteen offers, with sheer realism and relatability, a conceptual glance at a young girls early teenage years. While watching this film, it is likely that viewers will easily recall the burdens they carried as teenagers...and shudder.