In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids' point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
Bryce Dallas Howard
At the edge of adolescence, Tracy is a smart straight-A student--if not a little naive (it seems...she smokes and she cuts to alleviate the emotional pain she suffers from having a broken home and hating her mom's boyfriend, Brady.) When she befriends Evie, the most popular and beautiful girl in school, Evie leads Tracy down a path of sex, drugs and petty crime (like stealing money from purses and from stores). As Tracy transforms herself and her identity, her world becomes a boiling, emotional cauldron fueled by new tensions between her and her mother--as well as, teachers and old friends. Written by
One of the most common criticisms of "Thirteen" is that it is 'unrealistic'. However, "Thirteen" never claims to portray all thirteen year olds, hell, it doesn't even claim to portray a significant number of them. This film is about the select few who choose to take a certain path in life. They have no true parental figures, their lives are in shambles, and they are making a quick and painful transition into supposed adulthood. Notice the other people in the school scenes, they're normal, they're just studying, hanging out with their friends, and going through the motions of school life. Those aren't the people that are being portrayed here.
Nikki Reed, an immense young talent, plays Evie Zamora, the hottest and arguably most popular girl in school. Evan Rachel Wood plays Tracy, a girl who still keeps her stuffed animals and Barbie dolls on her bed, and whose parents have divorced recently and whose mother works as a hairdresser out of her home to support the family. Tracy goes to junior high completely oblivious of any of the social pressure that's present, and begins to idolize Evie, obviously a terrible role model. In an outstanding early scene, Tracy follows Evie into a shopping mall and is initially appalled at the idea of shoplifting, but in a desperate attempt to fit in with the 'cool' crowd, she steals a purse from a woman who sat next to her, and finds Evie again, at which point she is accepted. Sooner rather than later, Tracy is drawn into a terrible depression which she deals with by using drugs, cutting herself, and being sexually promiscuous. She does all this completely uncertain of whether she wants to, and mostly because she's following Evie's lead. To say that no 13 year olds have experiences similar to this is pure ignorance, and if you're a parent who thinks this is unrealistic- think again, and think hard. In today's world, narcotics are available as easily as candy bars, and pop stars are more like porn stars, putting pressure on today's teens to become promiscuous sooner in life.
Wood is a terrific, terrific actress who has made some questionable career choices before and since this, but I hope to see her continue to star in films like "The Upside of Anger" and "Down in the Valley". However, in this particular film, even her tremendously powerful performance pales in comparison with Holly Hunter's Oscar-nominated supporting role as Tracy's mother, and by Nikki Reed, who, in her first ever acting role, is nothing short of stunning. This role is very, very racy for any 15 year old to take on, and Reed, who also co-wrote this film's terrific script with Catherine Hardwicke, takes it on with maturity I've never seen before from an actress of her age. First time director Catherine Hardwicke does a great job here, her work is inventive and adds real grit to this tale.
The bottom line is, "Thirteen" is a great, realistic, disturbing urban drama that you should watch with an open mind and with knowledge that it is based in fact. This is a challenging and brave film, and everyone involved has gained immediate respect from me. One of the best of 2003.
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