Thirteen is a welcome exception to the rule - a smart movie that does not simplify or candy-coat the rigors of the teenage years. Instead, it amplifies them by dealing with characters who are less stable than "average" junior high schoolers. If living the life of a normal teenager is like quietly listening to a song on the radio, then living the life of Thirteen's characters is like listening to that same song, played live in an eardrum-splitting concert. The rhythm, tune, and lyrics are all the same. It's only the intensity, volume, and perhaps the approach that are different. Teenagers (barred from the movie by its "R" rating) will relate to these characters. Adults, by plumbing the depths of their memories, may also connect.
The film begins with a premise that has been utilized as the foundation for less ambitious outings like Can't Buy Me Love, Heathers, and Jawbreaker - that of the introverted nerd who dreams of joining the popular crowd.
Except, instead of developing this idea into a moralistic fairy tale or a black comedy, Thirteen descends into tragedy. In addition to being a fascinating and disturbing character study, Catherine Hardwicke's film examines the meltdown of an already dysfunctional family treading the razor's edge of collapse. Light the blue touch paper... and kaboom! That's what happens when popular bad girl Evie (Nikki Reed) enters the life of straight-A student Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood).
Tracy is every teacher's dream student - a quiet, serious young woman who is less concerned with her looks than with her grades. But, like most geeky girls on the ripe side of puberty, Tracy desperately wants to be liked and noticed, and not just by those in her clique. When an opportunity arises for her to jump the striations of...