The joke about teenage being a form of madness isn't funny. How can a sweet, loving, uncomplicated child become a thieving, vain, uncontrollable 13-year-old?

It seems a long time since an American filmmaker has looked at this period in a girl's life as anything other than a light comedic romp in the style of Clueless.

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Nikki Reed wrote the screenplay for Thirteen when she was 13. Catherine Hardwicke, who was dating her dad at the time, edited and added to it. Later, she made the film, with Nikki in the bad girl role, winning the Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance.

This is an authentic, devastating insight into the pack instincts of high school girls, as well as a nerve-snapping portrait of a single mom (Holly Hunter at full throttle), desperately trying to hold it together, watching her second child Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) dive blind into a miasma of moral degredation.

Observers would blame Tracy's fall on peer pressure, a desire to hang with the cool crowd, especially Evie (Reed), who displays an arrogant disregard for convention and those less designer clad than herself. Evie's confidence is both a ruse and a vital attraction

The film is uncompromising and raw. All those rebel delinquent cliches surrounding the subject of sex, drugs and underage criminality are cast aside in favour of contradiction, insecurity, inner turmoil and emotional pain. Evie's love for Tracy is conditional; Tracy's admiration of Evie belongs in part to her own self-discovery.

There are two lives being lived here, the wild girls out of control and Tracy's mother's attempt to staunch the wound of a broken marriage, an on-off love affair with a recovering alcoholic and an in-house hairdressing business that depends too heavily on the kindness of friends.

This is acting on the bare edge of brilliance. Tracy moves from a shy, gauche, plain girl, who so much wants to fit in, to a body pierced, excess-addicted, self-mutilating sexual anarchist, who may not know why she does what she does, but sure as hell cares nothing for its consequences, which, in the private recesses of her mind, is not entirely true.

Wood has an uncanny ability to convey a spectrum of emotions in a single minute, beautifully illustrating the intensity and fallibility beyond the manipulative influence of Evie's control, while Hunter lays herself open to regret, guilt and rage with an honesty that cuts through the veil of parental correctness.

Teenage is not as form of madness; it is a method of torture.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2003
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Thirteen packshot
Californian single mom suffers the destructive excess of a teenage daughter.
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Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Writer: Catherine Hardwicke, Nikki Reed

Starring: Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed, Jeremy Sisto, Brady Corbet, Deborah Kara Unger, Kip Pardue, Sarah Clarke, D W Moffett, Venessa Anne Hudgens, Jenicka Carey

Year: 2003

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US/UK


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