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Thirteen (2003)

Its happening so fast.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 100 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

When Holly Hunter and Deborah Kara Unger last shared the screen in David Cronenberg's controversial 'Crash', they played damaged people seeking self-destructive thrills. Now, together again in 'Thirteen', they play relatively normal individuals, and it is the young women under their guardianship who are instead living on the edge.

In its opening scene, Tracy looks straight to camera and demands 'Hit me!', before she and her equally drug-addled schoolfriend Evie laugh and exchange bloody facial punches. Cut to four months earlier, and 'Thirteen' offers a blow by blow account of Tracy's rapid decline from family girl and diligent pupil to a body-pierced, sexually active, drug-using (and -dealing), out-of-control teenage rebel, as the indulgence of her loving mother Mel turns to helplessness and horror.

The film begins like 'Poison Ivy', with an impressionable teenager falling in with a bad influence, but what ultimately makes 'Thirteen' a far better film is a refusal to offer pat explanations of what happens or to allow its issues to be resolved superficially by some misplaced thriller dénouement. Tracy is at that age of confusion where her growing sense of independence, and indeed her own body, become a field of constant battle, but 'Thirteen' suggests that she bears much deeper scars which are merely exacerbated, rather than caused, by adolescence. Similarly while her manipulative friend Evie seems to have the rôle of 'bad girl', her desperation to become part of a loving family and the mysterious burn scar on her back hint at problems, like Tracy's own, which are closer to home.

As Tracy, Evan Rachel Wood negotiates a difficult path between little girl and hormonal teenager, finding a perfect mix of naïveté and precociousness, while Nikki Reed (who also co-wrote the screenplay, aged sixteen, with director Catherine Hardwicke) brings a subtle vulnerability to the tough-seeming Evie, making her more than just the Old Testament temptress that her name suggests. The always excellent Holly Hunter plays Tracy's mother Mel not as some clueless middle-aged casualty of the generation gap, but as a trendy, down-to-earth young woman ('the hot big sister', as Evie puts it) against whom any teenage rebellion would have to take an extreme form. Evie's legal guardian Brooke is portrayed by Deborah Kara Unger as too self-involved to see the damage which her self-involvement causes, while Mel's boyfriend Brady (the superb Jeremy Sisto) is an ex-crackhead rejected by Tracy even though he is far more dependable and caring than her own absent father (D.W. Moffett).

'Thirteen' is a surprisingly unsensationalised, brutally frank coming-of-age drama, examining the way in which a troubled adolescence both affects, and is affected by, the home environment. Full of difficult questions, and with no esay answers, it is that rare thing, a teen flick which will make you think.

It's Got: Eye make-up, thongs and lots of piercings.

It Needs: Actresses who are just a little closer to thirteen years of age (but this is a quibble)


A surprisingly unsensationalised, brutally frank coming-of-age drama.