Thirteen

Thirteen

Purposefully harrowing drama about a self-destructive thirteen-year-old is not much more than an extreme variation on your standard after-school special: Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), a 7th grader with good grades, nice friends, and promise (as a poet, naturally), falls in with bad influence Evie (Nikki Reed, whose precocious cowriting credit is the film's primary claim to fame), her junior high's reigning slut queen who has a penchant for sex, drugs, and crime. Within days, Tracy turns into a living nightmare for her single mom Mel (Holly Hunter). For the rest of us, too. I suppose Thirteen is about the need to love and forgive even the meanest of children, but Tracy becomes such a holy terror that the average moviegoer may find it hard to put up with her.

Despite the film's uninspired setup (body piercing and self-mutilation have taken the place of earlier misled-teenager hallmarks like smoking and shoplifting, but the message remains the same), I certainly can't discredit the brave performances, particularly a ferocious turn by Wood. She is amazing, though after half an hour you just want to slap her. Still and all, despite MTV stylistics like handheld camerawork and blue-tinted cinematography, Tracy falls into the same trap and eventually learns the same lessons that fictional teenage girls of yore encountered on everything from The Patty Duke Show to The Facts of Life.