Tracy is a normal 13-year-old trying to make it in school. After befriending the most popular girl at school, Evie, Tracy's world is turned upside down when Evie introduces her to a world of sex, drugs and cash. But it isn't long before Tracy's new world and attitude finally takes a toll on her, her family, and old friends.
The panic in the eyes of Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), the barely teenaged protagonist of "Thirteen," will stay with you for a very long time. "Thirteen" 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 (Nikki Reed), who crashes into Tracy's life and plucks her from an existence of 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. As Evie takes Tracy under her broken wing to remake her, we feel we're watching the protagonist of "Thirteen" undergo the initiations of a new tribe. The closest the film 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). What we recognize from the stricken look in Melanie's face is the same panic in Tracy's eyes — it's something mother and daughter share, and Ms. Hunter wills this spiritual match-up into existence. The movie has the ebb and flow that comes from material structured as a series of anecdotes — it doesn't build, and sometimes it feels as cluttered as a 13-year-old's bedroom. But that may be a byproduct of Catherine Hardwicke's attempt to layer incidents that are as far as possible from the weary set of clichés that inform pictures about teens. Ms. Hardwicke, making her directorial debut, works from a screenplay she authored with Ms. Reed, shaped around autobiographical elements from the actress's own life. Usually, the protagonist is the bystander — in "Thirteen," she's the fuse. — Elvis Mitchell
2003-08-20 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Thirteen