Tender care of ripe
and tender flesh,
the burgeoning life inside.
Care for need,
so as not to bruise
or hinder growth,
for the child of mother’s blossom.
A harshly tender and sometimes disturbing story of a child thrown suddenly in a world of peer criticism while struggling with the emotional conflicts arising within her own family, however much her mother may care and love her and show it. It isn’t the practically pornographic film some have led us to believe, nor is it obnoxiously destructive or depressing. Even in a film like this, they managed a very positive ending, although not a falsely happy one. And, unlike many in this line of stories, the mother truly does care about her daughter and shows it strongly and consistently. Problems lie in far more indirect ways, to show us everything affects a child, or anyone who deeply cares for you.
To say the lead family’s existence is a normal suburban pleasantness would be slightly off course. The parents are divorced, Tracy lives with her mother and brother, her mother, Melanie, is a terribly affectionate mother but lets others take advantage of her generosity and understanding, including her husband. She also has some sort of past problem requiring a support group, and a recurring boyfriend who always leaves and has come back soon into the film. And, as always, there are some money problems, but none particularly debilitating. What affects Tracy most stems from what she sees her mother do to herself in letting people walk all over her sense of generosity. And seeing the boyfriend, Brady, come back was pretty much the last straw for her concern to bear.
Now couple this with being thrown in to the giant pot of adolescent hierarchy and power struggles called high school. This boils up quite the potential for disaster in this thirteen year old girl, and it strikes hot with a cloud of billowing steam to accompany it. Another girl, Evie, finds in her someone to clamp onto like a parasite and feed off of, almost as if bound by some psychological survival to do so. Worlds crumble and empires fall, and the people around Tracy are left to desperately hoist up the walls as they disintegrate in their bare hands.
As I said, it leaves on a positive note that touches deeply into the maternal centers of us all, making the film an emotionally worthwhile experience despite it all, but I won’t give it all away. And the cast does it’s part to enrich the entire experience. As lead, Evan Rachel Wood, playing Tracy, plays her character powerfully, especially for such a young age. At the beginning, she felt a bit forced, especially in her little victory dance, but once she got warmed up she was burning with vibrant emotion and tension. Holly Hunter, as Tracy’s mom Melanie, shined with her proven skill in a multidimensional role of a character given both to serious concern and enthusiastic fancy. Jeremy Sisto appears as Brady playing pretty the same basic presence as his role in ‘Six Feet Under,’ albiet well. Nikki Reed, playing Evie, acted her role decently, but to no hint of exceptional, along with the other sometimes ametuerish supporting roles not yet mentioned.
A great cast, a digital video visual style that works well (but deserves no special praise for its use of digital), and a solid plot and sentiment to back it all up, ‘Thirteen’ excels gracefully and powerfully. Not a happy movie, but a film that ends on a very positive scene, nonetheless. ‘Thirteen’ deserves any praise it is given.
Website Review: (http://www2.foxsearchlight.com/thirteen/) Attractive site with a few interview clips, but nothing terribly probing about such a powerful film. And the full production notes, etc. link was broken. The PDF was a dead link.
(Review ©2003 by Joshua Parkinson, posted originally at http://www.eatingpeanuts.com)