"But that’s the stuff of chemistry, isn’t it?"
Young lives can be squandered beyond repair in many ways, but few movies have made the process as blisteringly effective as the movie “Thirteen.” With two outstanding performances from Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood, the movie shows us that the tough rites of contemporary passage have become choices not just for high school students, but also for those in middle school. Are these really the choices they have to make at thirteen? Apparently.
Sick of the word “cool,” the newest generation has reached with a stunning lack of imagination to “hot,” which does not necessarily imply hot sex, but cool behavior. We are reminded too that peer pressure does not necessarily mean what it says. Often it is not many, but just a few girls, or even one, who steps into the life of a new teen to twist her vulnerability into self-destruction.
Who is the “hottest” girl in this middle school? Evie (Nikki Reed, also co-writer of the film). Evie lives with her aunt, in the absence of her mother, described by Evie as a “crack whore.” The aunt is a bartender nursing a botched facelift, “They’ve cut off my ears!” Evie is given to piercings, bracelets, makeup, shoplifting, and sex.
In one of life’s inexplicable bits of chemistry, Evie becomes the role model for Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), an accomplished student who lives at home with her single mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter) and brother Mason (Brady Corbet). Melanie gets by with a hair dressing business in her house. She is a recovering alcoholic who loves her children, but, busy as she is holding things together, she is slow to pick up on Tracey’s descent into drugs, crime, rap, sex, body piercing, and self-mutilation.
Mom Melanie has a sometime boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto) who moves in after his second term in a halfway house, much to Tracy’s disgust. With her mom now fully occupied with sex, earning, and the mechanics of living, Tracey embraces Evie’s culture. The heartbreaking side of all this is that both mother and daughter are good people who slide downward once they can no longer read each other’s clues. When Tracy asks her mother to listen to a poem she has written, the answer is “….. in a minute, Tracy.” When Melanie turns to her boyfriend for solace, she closes her eyes to what is happening in the other end of her house.
The film is weakened by the fact that Melanie and Tracy are both smart, caring, people who in real life might not have gone as far of track as they do. As Evie, Nikki Reed may have written a good film here, but her acting is not compelling enough to explain her allure for a girl who outshines her in every way. But that’s the stuff of chemistry, isn’t it? And the lesson? Whatever is going on in our own lives, nothing is as important as listening to that poem.
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