Thirteen: Review – The Washington Post

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

The Washington Post
Stephen Hunter
August 29, 2003

Girls Gone Wild : ‘Thirteen’ Reveals Eighth Grade as More Than Lip Gloss and Slow Dances

“Thirteen” is less a movie than a great piece of journalism. It has all the hallmarks of serious, brilliant reporting: It pierces a culture, it pays careful attention to nuance and detail, it eschews a showy tone, it illuminates its subject. And it is very disturbing. It makes you want to hug your kids hard, and never let them out.

But as a drama, its instincts are somewhat unsure.

The story follows a pretty, innocent, smart and vivacious 13-year-old girl named Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) in what appears to be a fairly benign Southern California junior high school. It’s not the inner city: no drive-bys, no crack, no gangs. Rather, issues of fitting in, popularity and the ebb and gurgle of hormonal tides. In most respects, Tracy’s life has been designed to illustrate a statistical norm of everyteen: She’s from a broken (but not bitterly broken) family, she loves both mom ‘n’ dad, she has enough but not too much, she has a loving if sometime brusque brother, and most of all, she wants to be cool.

Well, everybody wants to be cool. I want to be cool. It’s not a teenage thing, it’s a human life thing. “Cool,” really, is an ideal, invented by media, against which we judge ourselves and against which we find ourselves wanting, always, no matter what. There are seven naturally cool people in the world, and all of them are fighter pilots with multiple victories, and they all know that if they talk about being cool, then they aren’t cool anymore. You can’t want it; you have to be it.

Tracy’s idea of cool is contained in one fabulous person, who sails the school corridors trailing a flotsam of wannabes: the svelte and charismatic Evie (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the script, based on life experience). Tracy yearns for Evie’s acknowledgement, to say nothing of her friendship, though as a goal that’s too enormous even to be imagined. Instead, Tracy hangs out with her droopy friends — chubbettes, repressives and the chronically pallid — and now and then casts covetous glimpses at Evie, the center of all attention, the queen and ruler of the cool clique, sought after by guys, even older guys. Then one brave day, Tracy changes her style, from non-starter to fast-girl-in-training. You can trust the movie to sweat the small stuff; I have every faith that a certain toenail polish may mean the difference between in and out in junior high school.

And mirabile dictu, Evie notices. But does Evie see a new cool girl, or her next victim in the con game of life?

In some ways, “Thirteen” takes as its model the classic black-widow scenario from film noir, about the seductive femme fatale who draws you in, steals your soul, makes you a slave, then betrays you, laughing all the way to the bank, while you’re left behind to face the music. Only it’s set in a mall.

For Evie begins, ever so slowly, not merely to bewitch Tracy but to robotize her. Maybe Evie’s current collection of slaves has begun to bore her, maybe she sees in the less sophisticated girl something absent in her own life, or maybe she’s just bad, all bad. In any event, as director Catherine Hardwicke chronicles it, Evie’s victory over Tracy is swift and complete. Soon she’s remade Tracy in her own image and involved her in the various dangerous liaisons of the eighth-grade fast life, including doing drugs, shoplifting, cutting school, cutting herself (ugh!) and doing unnecessary things with horny boys. It’s not pretty what a friend without pity can do, and the movie opens on an ugly image that sums up the twisted barb of love-hate between the girls: high on drugs, they laughingly, lovingly beat each other black and blue. The movie studies cruelty with an unblinking eye, and for some its intensity may be too disturbing.

As it turns out, mere domination isn’t enough for Evie. She goes further, into usurpation: She becomes a member of Tracy’s family, more adored than Tracy herself. Soon she’s calling Tracy’s mother “Ma” and giving her hugs. For a while, the film feels a little like a clever horror movie about a hypnotized family that replaces its normal daughter with a more idealized one.

Each young actress is powerful and superb, and the creation of teen-girl culture seems almost pitch-perfect. The flaw is the flaw of most works of muckraking when they are held to artistic standards: It’s a question of proportion. Poor Tracy is front-loaded with every conceivable woe for a child of her age, so that she ceases to be a character in a drama and becomes instead a poster child for social dysfunction. She’s a figure out of sociology rather than out of reality.

Still, Hardwicke, a former art director, brings insights to the material that many directors might not have thought of. With her artistic eye, she’s able to make the visual texture of the film work as commentary. I was struck, for example, by the way in which she subtly makes a point that the authority structure of the family is severely threatened when the mom and the daughter look exactly alike.

Mom is played by Holly Hunter in hip-huggers, with a sinuous bare midriff, flip-flops and tees. How does she dress differently than her daughter? The answer is: not a bit. She’s in love with cool as well, and the movie makes clear that the distinction in wardrobe between young and old has vanished forever. And, that being so, the platform for the mother’s authority becomes narrow indeed. How can a mom who shows her navel tell a daughter who shows her navel that having that navel pierced is just one step too far?

Toward the end, “Thirteen” grows manipulative and melodramatic. It resolves itself to a scene of battlin’ moms, where Hunter goes head-to-head with Deborah Kara Unger, who plays Evie’s dissolute mother. That’s the trouble with movies: They have to have endings, whereas a feature story, or a movie review, can just stop.

Thirteen: Review – Village Voice

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

Village Voice
Laura Sinagra
August 20-26, 2003

Sure, the midlife male critics who thumbs-upped Lilya 4-Ever are raving Thirteen‘s nubile dysfunction. But like gal-pal meditations from Heavenly Creatures to Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? to Mary Anderson’s young-adult creeper I’m Nobody! Who are You?, Catherine Hardwicke’s directorial debut is less a damozel-in-distress fetish flick than a bird-flipping plunge into coded girl-cult communication.

We first encounter Thirteen‘s central SoCal twosome in mid-whippet bed-bounce, convulsed in laughter, so high that their playful face-smacking is drawing blood. Their paroxysms are captured in handheld jolts, their buzz affirmed by a surging Mark Mothersbaugh track. When we flash back to Tracy and Evie’s introduction, power chords and zooms mimic their appraisal of each other’s body art: a navel piercing, a braceleted wrist, a thong-string, a glittered eyelid, blown-out bangs. A production design vet, Hardwicke has a deep sense of the significance of teen trinkets. Soon after this meeting, the older Evie (co-writer Nikki Reed) has rescued Tracy (Once and Again square peg Evan Rachel Wood) from her Barbies and bobby sox, and hauled her into the passing lane of acid, sex, and jacking Melrose stiz.

Though it’s being compared to Kids, Thirteen gives the lie to sensationalist Lord of the Flies factionalism. Tracy is close to her mom–Holly Hunter as a divorced hairdresser in recovery, “working the program” but still a sucker for her cokehead beau (Jeremy Sisto)–and Evie obviously longs for Tracy’s relative domestic security. Hardwicke creatively telegraphs the family’s economic straits: Hunter ecstatically buying Wood a knockoff designer shirt from a van; a kid-toting haircut client leaving a $2 tip (“they ate half the lasagna”); Hunter ripping out rotting linoleum in response to a family melee.

Even if the girls’ extended practice-kissing and three-way teases are gonna make this a male-gaze DVD must-have, they also scan as real-life options as porn and pleasure-pursuit continue to blur. It’s like in The Real Cancún, where the all-female makeouts are both performative porno-mimicry and a warmer alternative to banging the goofy studs. Similarly, in Thirteen, the loaded rituals of hetero sex, and even sexual betrayal, play a distant fiddle to female-friend erotics and mother-daughter love-swirl.

Thirteen: Review – USA Today

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

USA Today
Mike Clark
***1/2 (R)
August 19, 2003

Thirteen hits you — and keeps you

Thirteen ( * * * *) is the most powerful of all recent wayward-youth sagas; indeed, it’s tough to recall the last such drama that packed as much emotional clout.

Catherine Hardwicke, a former production designer, received a directing award at the Sundance Film Festival for Thirteen, her debut feature, and it was well deserved.

Beginning with a shocker — drug-dazed seventh-grade girls play a brutal bedroom game of “Hit me!” —Thirteen builds to a climax with its most powerful scene. And though the script feels assured and Hardwicke’s visual style is provocative, this is an actor’s show: Holly Hunter; Nikki Reed, who was 13 when she wrote the screenplay; and Evan Rachel Wood of TV’s Once and Again, who gives a lead performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Financially strapped Tracy (Wood) is flattered to be befriended by Reed’s sexy, popular and magnetically garbed Evie. But Evie is an emotional mess who turns drugs, sex and shoplifting into a daily routine. A consummate manipulator, she persuades Tracy’s hard-working single mom (Hunter) to allow her to establish residence in their ramshackle house, which doubles as a makeshift hair salon.

Tracy is soon rifling the purses of her mother’s customers. Mom is responsible within her limits, but she is likely in denial when the quality of her daughter’s wardrobe improves about 600-fold. The movie always seems to be building to a confrontation, and the one it delivers is even more dramatically combustible than anticipated.

Even if Tracy completes her downward trajectory more rapidly than some might think possible, Hardwicke makes the toboggan ride credible — at least in movie terms — thanks in part to an intriguing underlying plot twist from which all events follow.

Thirteen, from Fox Searchlight, is the latest screen achievement from a smaller studio to prove that the major studios and worthwhile movies are virtually mutually exclusive until late in the year.

Meanwhile, this year’s Sundance festival certainly has been a barometer for much of what has mattered this summer: American Splendor, Capturing the Friedmans and Whale Rider all took awards there as well.

Thirteen: Review – Rolling Stone

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

Rolling Stone
Peter Travers
***1/2 (R)
August 7, 2003

Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is just a simple Valley girl with a dream of being cool. She lives with her single mom (Holly Hunter), an at-home hairdresser, and wastes her time studying for seventh grade until she meets motherless Evie (Nikki Reed), also thirteen, who defines cool for Tracy. That means hoochie tops, body piercings, shoplifting, drugs, bad boys, oral sex, lap dances and a three-way that Evie tries to negotiate with Tracy and a twentyish hunk (Kip Pardue). Every parent’s nightmare about how girls go wrong is packed into this movie and onto Hunter’s frazzled face as she watches her daughter deteriorate. The whole thing would stink of phony moralizing if Catherine Hardwicke, who won the directing prize at Sundance 2003, didn’t pack it with such raw vitality. Reed is strikingly good as Evie. She should be: She was thirteen when she wrote the semi-autobiographical script with Hardwicke, who used to date Reed’s divorced dad. But the revelation is Wood, 15, formerly of TV’s Once and Again, who makes Tracy’s transformation harrowing and haunting. She’s a live wire. Brace yourself for Thirteen — it’ll cause a commotion.

Thirteen: Review – The New York Times

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

The New York Times
Elvis Mitchell

Trading Barbie for Drugs, Sex and Halter Tops

The panic in the eyes of Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), the barely teenage protagonist of “Thirteen,” will stay with you for a very long time. Both her fear and pleasure — since they are inextricably entwined — are almost always visible, especially in a harrowing scene about loss of control that is a pinnacle of performance. Tracy and her new best friend, Evie (Nikki Reed), try to lure a 20-something neighbor (Kip Pardue) into a threesome. With a hollow fervor Tracy goes through the motions of what she thinks she should be doing, imitating Evie’s lead. Tracy’s ferocious appetite gives this story of a 13-year-old girl’s extended period of debauchery and misery a magnetic volatility; she moves through this mess slightly startled, as if she were trapped in a waking nightmare.

“Thirteen,” which opens today in New York and Los Angeles, treats Tracy’s behavior as a fever dream, something viral. This disease eating up her empathy and decency is what she picked up from the effortlessly cool Evie, also 13, who crashes into Tracy’s life and plucks her from an existence of more age-appropriate fixations, like Barbie dolls. Evie, with the physical confidence of a much older girl, knows exactly how to devastate Tracy; she breezily drops hints that she thinks her new friend is immature. Essentially, it’s the way cult leaders work on a psychological Achilles’ heel. And as Evie plies her skills on the desperate and impressionable Tracy, one thing comes to mind: Evie must have experienced this same tragedy, and is simply spreading the contagion to the next victim in the biosphere.

So anxious to be grown up we can almost smell it in her sweat, Tracy adopts the new life of makeup, halter tops and shoplifting, because she feels it adds years to her and provides an immediate adrenaline spike she gets hooked on. As Evie takes Tracy under her broken wing to remake her, we feel we’re watching Tracy undergo the initiations of a new tribe. (The movie could be called “Prey” because it’s the way Evie — who lives nearly unsupervised with a haggard, alcoholic mother played by the normally healthy and strapping Deborah Kara Unger — seems to view Tracy.)

The closest “Thirteen” comes to a narrative is in following its young central figure straying into sex, drugs and alienation and her sudden detachment from her struggling single mother, Melanie (Holly Hunter). The movie has the ebb and flow that come from material structured as a series of anecdotes — it doesn’t build, and sometime feels as cluttered as a 13-year-old’s bedroom. But that may be a byproduct of Catharine Hardwicke, making her directorial debut, working to layer incidents that are as far as possible from the weary set of clichés that inform pictures about teenagers. Usually, the protagonist is the bystander — in “Thirteen,” she’s the fuse.

Ms. Hardwicke works from a screenplay she wrote with Ms. Reed, shaped around elements from Ms. Reed’s own life. Tracy is acting out a kind of rebellion that doesn’t make any sense to her mother. Painfully, it doesn’t really seem to make any sense to Tracy, either, but she feels an immediate kinship with Evie, whose life is spinning spectacularly out of control. It’s the drop that so thrills Tracy — the sensation of doing whatever she pleases that both stokes and horrifies her. What we recognize from the stricken look in Melanie’s face is the same panic in the eyes — it’s something mother and daughter share, and Ms. Hunter wills this spiritual matchup into existence.

Melanie recognizes what appears to be her child, but doesn’t have the tools to get through to her. Tracy is all vivacity looking for boundaries, and Melanie can’t provide her daughter with any. Their relationship has been more about acting as friends than parent and offspring, and Melanie’s boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto) doesn’t have the authority to change anything and doesn’t want it.

Evie exerts more control than anyone else in the movie because she’ll do and say whatever it takes to get what she wants. She’s a master, a child expert of ratiocination.

Tracy, in contrast, vibrates those flashes of rage that erupt from the hearts of young girls growing up without a father in the house — a boiling mélange of anger and frustration born of what feels like rejection. It’s this startlingly realized emotional detail that Ms. Wood is spectacularly equipped to register, a contrast with the serenity she showed in last summer’s “Simone” and closer to the thin-skinned dreaminess she evinced in the television series “Once and Again,” where she played Shane West’s little sister. (That show was a gold mine of youthful acting talent; it also featured standout work by Julia Whelan.)

Ms. Wood’s performance bounces with mood swings from anxiety to exhilaration in a movie with moments so realistically painted that your eyes will sting from the fumes. Ms. Hardwicke’s directing approach echoes the chemical surges of its little-girl star, bounding and lunging as if it were in the back seat of a car hurtling down bumpy roads without a seat belt. Working with the cinematographer Elliot Davis, Ms. Hardwicke obviously chose this unsettled style to evoke Tracy’s state of mind. (Some families may see discomforting similarities between their own lives and those depicted in “Thirteen.”)

The movie flutters above the fine line between drama and exploitation, as did a 2000 film by David D. Williams with a similar theme and also called “Thirteen.” A preening vulnerability from teenage actresses is often visible in these films about young girls adrift and heartbreakingly alone even when they travel in a group. In Lawrence Ah Mon’s gripping 2000 Hong Kong drama “Spacked Out,” the girls still wear Hello Kitty backpacks as they swing their hips with a bravura picked up from music videos and commercials. This demeanor is often called growing up too fast, but it’s obvious these girls haven’t grown up at all; it’s why they cling so tenaciously to tantrums.

Yet amazingly, these movies about teenage girls, confused and rebellious with no focus, give young actresses opportunities to unleash their talents. And in the case of “Thirteen,” Evan Rachel Wood’s claims our attention.

Thirteen: Review – Chicago Tribune

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

Chicago Tribune
Michael Wilmington
***1/2 (out of 4)

Catherine Hardwicke’s scorching “Thirteen” takes a seemingly small subject, the growing pains of adolescent girls in a Los Angeles-area suburb, and makes a volatile, feverish world out of it, digging deeper than you would have thought possible.

It’s an excellent, unforgettable film, one of the prize American indies of the year. But it’s also deeply disturbing. It’s a portrayal of fast-lane life among “ordinary” kids (encompassing sex, drug use and petty crime) that takes an unblinking view of casual self-destruction among the young, yet the film never seems sensationalized. At its best, “Thirteen”plays like an ultra-real slice of life, a documentary window on a real world.

That’s a striking contrast to most American movies about contemporary girls in their teens – all those movies that take place in a never-never land of pop media fantasy, filled with mini-Britneys, mini-Madonnas, tin Lizzie McGuires and glossy clones of Lindsay Lohan or the Olsen twins. At best, these movies turn their youthful stars into icons; at worst, into products. And the most they usually offer is a bit of charm and humor.

But “Thirteen” is different. Shot by the amazingly gifted Hardwicke in a vigorous, pseudo-documentary, handheld-camera style, it’s an emotional powerhouse. The film moves you, angers you and tears apart your preconceptions. As we watch the disastrous rebellions of seventh-grader Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and her “bad girl” best friend, Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed) – their sexual experimentation, drug use and cool deceptions of parent or guardian – we’re both attracted and repelled. But we’re also convinced. Hardwicke firmly places these two characters, brilliantly acted by the young co-stars, in the Girl Culture of today, in a believable junior high milieu. She also convincingly recreates the turbulence of the semi-countercultural household run by Tracy’s frazzled single mother, Melanie (terrifically played by Holly Hunter).

The movie starts with a bang, showing Tracy in the throes of seeming self-immolation: a sadomasochistic bout between Tracy and Evie, slapping each other silly while giggly-high on drugs. Then it flashes to the back story: Tracy’s family problems in the raffish and volatile Venice Beach area. She comes from a broken, mangled household shaped by a single mother and absent father (D.W. Moffett). The family also includes the mom’s likable but weak ex-addict boyfriend, Brady (Jeremy Sisto), and a sympathetic surfer younger brother, Mason (Brady Corbet).

We first see Tracy as a sensitive, smart girl on the edge. She’s a gifted writer whose mother, trapped in scanty finances and frustrating relationships, can’t give her enough time. Into the void pops Evie, belle of the seventh grade. Evie’s tight clothes, ready smile, provocative prettiness, irreverence and casual attitudes toward sex, boys and drugs have gained her a reputation as the prime hottie at their junior high school. But she’s also a parentless liar and con artist whose sociopathic but seductive personality makes it easy for her to get whatever she wants, including Tracy’s friendship. Insecure Tracy takes confident, brash, always-smiling Evie as her model. And Evie masterminds Tracy’s sudden hottie makeover – body piercing and bare-midriff hip-huggers – and her introduction to a fast-lane world of shoplifting, drugs and sex.

Like her new chum, Tracy begins to lie, steal and recast herself into one image of modern Girl Culture, with its deliberately slutty imagery and media-star hooks. The story that follows, pulling us along irresistibly and shockingly, is about Tracy’s fall, Evie’s excesses and Melanie’s struggle to keep her family from disintegrating. Though a few scenes hover on melodrama and some have a light frost of preachiness, most of “Thirteen” has a wrenching sense of verisimilitude.

Hardwicke, making her feature writer-directorial debut after a strong career as a production designer (she created the urban fantasies of “Vanilla Sky,” the garish Old West of “Tombstone,” the hipsters’ L.A. of “Laurel Canyon” and the pseudo-Iraqi desert of “Three Kings”), is an amazing talent. She’s a terrific imagist and storyteller, and “Thirteen” convinces us not just because of its frankness and candor (qualities that made an “R” rating inevitable), or the semi-documentary, quasi-Dogma camera style of Elliot Davis, but because of Hardwicke’s whole approach. Hardwicke visualizes the story wonderfully, but she also fills it with spontaneity and conviction, in the ultra-realist style of John Cassavetes, Mike Leigh or Ken Loach. Here, as writer-director, she captures the look of this Southern California world and gets under the skin of her people just as well.

So do her actors. Hunter makes Melanie’s predicament palpable. So do fellow adults Sisto and Deborah Kara Unger (as Evie’s blitzed guardian) and, most remarkably, the kid players, especially Wood and Reed. Wood, of TV’s “Once and Again,” gives an impassioned, unguarded performance that takes us right into Tracy’s psyche, She shows us why Tracy is vulnerable and why, despite her fall, she has qualities that may save her.

One of the more remarkable things about “Thirteen” is that the movie was co-written by Reed, a friend and neighbor of Hardwicke’s. Reed was 13 when she co-wrote the movie and 14 when she acted in it. It’s an amazing performance. Reed has most of the cunning tricks and foxy mannerisms down cold. She suggests a kind of teenage Barbara Stanwyck or Kathleen Turner – a femme fatale in Jennifer Lopez drag. Even more impressively, Reed does this despite the fact that she isn’t even playing the part she lived. In real life, Reed was Tracy, the good girl pulled down a bad road. This is easily the movie debut of the year so far.

We may try to suppress the fact, both in life and in movies, but today’s 13-year-olds are exposed to situations like the ones shown here. The shock value of “Thirteen” has a clear, lacerating point. Hardwicke’s film doesn’t glamorize or exploit its teen protagonist and antagonist; it shows us how they react or succumb to the social, family and peer pressures around them.

Because of this, and because of its compassion and clarity, this movie seems to me a strongly moral (rather than moralistic) work, one that shows precisely how kids can be led astray by false glamour, seduced by bad examples. In this case, “Thirteen’s” R rating shouldn’t keep the younger audience entirely away. This is one movie they probably should see with their parents.

Thirteen: Review – Chicago Sun Times

Posted on 03. May, 2010 by in Press, Thirteen: Press

Chicago Sun-Times
Roger Ebert
***1/2 (R)
August 29, 2003

‘The two worst years of a woman’s life,” writes Nell Minow, “are the year she is 13 and the year her daughter is.” There are exceptions to the rule; I recently attended a 13th birthday party at which daughter and mother both seemed to be just fine, thanks, but it is hard to imagine a worse year than the one endured by the characters in “Thirteen.” This is the frightening story of how a nice girl falls under the influence of a wild girl and barely escapes big, big, big trouble, by which I mean drugs, crime, unwanted pregnancies, and other hazards that some teenagers seem inexplicably eager to experience.

That the horrors in this movie are worse than those found in the lives of most 13-year-olds, I believe and hope. It is painful enough to endure them at any age, let alone in a young and vulnerable season when life should be wondrous. But I believe such things really happen to some young teenagers, because at Sundance last January I met Nikki Reed, who co-wrote the screenplay when she was 13, and was 14 when she played Evie, the movie’s troublemaker. In real life Reed was the good girl; here, as a wild and seductive bad influence, she’s so persuasive and convincing I’m prepared to believe the movie is a truthful version of real experiences.

Evie is the most popular girl in the seventh grade, because of her bold personality, her clothes and accessories (mostly stolen), and her air of knowing more about sex than a 13-year-old should. The school’s value system is suggested by the fact that some of the students are working on a “project” about J. Lo.

One of Evie’s admirers is Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), a good student who hangs around with a couple of unpopular girls and wants to trade up. Evie is cruel to her (“Call me.” she says, and gives her the wrong number). But when Tracy steals a purse and hands over the money, Evie takes her on a shopping spree and soon the girls are such close friends that Evie has, essentially, moved into Tracy’s room.

Tracy lives with her divorced mother Melanie, played by Holly Hunter in a performance where the character vibrates with the intensity of her life. Melanie lives in a sprawling house she can’t afford, inherited from a marriage with a husband who is behind on his child support; she runs a beauty salon in her kitchen, and her house seems to be a drop zone for friends, acquaintances, their children and their needs (“A $2 tip,” she complains after one mob leaves, “and they ate half the lasagna.”)

Melanie is a recovering alcoholic, hanging on to AA for dear life, and with a boyfriend named Brady (Jeremy Sisto) who is in the program, too, although Melanie has painful memories from when he wasn’t. Melanie is sober, but it would be fair to say her life is still unmanageable, and although she loves Tracy and protects her with a mother’s fierce love, she’s clueless about what’s going on behind that bedroom door.

Evie’s history is often described but somehow never very clear. She lives with someone named Brooke (Deborah Kara Unger), who is not quite her mother, not quite her guardian, allegedly her cousin, more like her spaced-out roommate. Evie tells stories of violence and sexual abuse when she was young, and while we have no trouble believing such things could have happened, it’s impossible to be sure when she’s telling the truth.

Although Evie is trouble enough on her own, she reaches critical mass after she moves in with Tracy. Perhaps only a 13-year-old like Reed could have found the exact note in dialogue where the mother tries to get answers and information and is rejected and ignored like an unsolicited telephone call. You might doubt that a girl could conceal from her mother the fact that she has had her tongue and navel pierced, but this movie convinced me of that, and a lot more.

There are moments when you want to cringe at the danger these girls are in. They slip through the bedroom window and hang out on Hollywood Boulevard, they experiment sexually with kids older and tougher than they are, they all but rape “Luke the lifeguard boy” (Kip Pardue), a neighbor who accuses them, accurately, of being jail bait. They want to fly close to danger without getting hurt, and we wait for them to learn how hard and cruel the world can be.

When I meet Reed at Sundance she was with the film’s director, Catherine Hardwicke, who told one of those Only in Southern California stories: Hardwicke was dating Reed’s father, Reed was having problems, Hardwicke suggested she keep a journal, she wrote a screenplay instead, Hardwicke collaborated on a final draft and became the director. Of Reed it can only be said that, like Diane Lane at a similar age, she has the gifts to do almost anything. Although this is Hardwicke’s directing debut, she has many important credits as a production designer (“Tombstone,” “Three Kings,” “Vanilla Sky”) and the movie is smoothly professional, especially in the way it choreographs the comings and goings in Holly Hunter’s chaotic household. Hunter gave a famous performance in “Broadcast News” (1987) as a hyperactive news producer who was forever trying to keep all her plates spinning; her problems here are similar. We know exactly how she feels as she trips on a loose kitchen tile and starts tearing up “the goddamn $1.50 a square foot floor.”

Who is this movie for? Not for most 13-year-olds, that’s for sure. The R rating is richly deserved, no matter how much of a lark the poster promises. Maybe the film is simply for those who admire fine, focused acting and writing; “Thirteen” sets a technical problem that seems insoluble, and meets it brilliantly, finding convincing performances from its teenage stars. showing a parent who is clueless but not uncaring, and a world outside that bedroom window that has big bad wolves, and worse.

Note: Watching ‘Thirteen,” I remembered another movie with the same title. David D. Williams’ “Thirteen” (1997) tells the story of a 13-year-old African-American girl named Nina, who runs away from home and causes much concern for her mother, neighbors and the police before turning up again. This movie is set in a more innocent place, a small Virginia town, and has a heroine who has not grown up too fast but is still partly a child, as she should be. The film, which I showed at my Overlooked Film Festival, is apparently not available on video; it would be a comfort after this one.

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