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.

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