A brutally honest portrayal of one seventh grader’s fall, “Thirteen” raises serious issues concerning America’s youth. Laudable for its sensitivity with painful subjects and gritty courage, Catherine Hardwicke’s film promises to stay with the audience long after the credits have rolled.

Facing intense peer pressure armed with only a shaky self-image, Tracey (Evan Rachel Wood, “Once and Again”) is doomed the moment she enters junior high. Wood encapsulates youthful innocence, enhancing the impact of the corruption that follows.

In search of acceptance, Tracey ditches her friends and focuses on the dangerously flirtatious, quintessential popular girl Evie. Expertly played by newcomer Nikki Reed, Evie’s daring schemes and knack for never telling the truth successfully seduce Tracey.

Tracey’s mother Mel (the flawless Holly Hunter) struggles with alcoholism and discipline issues of her own. This lax atmosphere gives Tracey and Evie free reign to indulge in typical teenage misadventures juxtaposed with swiftly escalating drug use.

Both Wood and Reed maintain terrifying vulnerability throughout the film that starkly contrasts their lack of respect for everything, especially themselves. Although Reed’s character is the instigator, she reveals glimpses of inner struggle, adding dimension to her character.

The semi-autobiographical script, co-written by the teenage Reed and director Hardwicke, rings refreshingly true, adding heartache to Reed’s performance when one considers the reality upon which it is based.

Hunter’s sharp instincts and weathered maturity play well against the rebellious energy of her fresh costars, creating palpable tension from beginning to end. A tension that is heightened by the Los Angeles setting, the perfect backdrop for Tracey and Evie’s unraveling at the price of shallow beauty and false acceptance.

Simultaneously frightening and riveting, “Thirteen” is a well crafted story told with honesty and integrity that, although at times difficult to watch, is more than worth the energy it requires.

Rating: 4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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