Thirteen opens with an almighty wallop (literally) as two stoned teenage girls repeatedly punch each other in the face - just for laughs. And the hits just keep on coming in this harrowing, and sometimes heartbreaking, growing pains yarn.
"BRUTAL BUT SENSITIVE"
Writer/director Catherine Hardwicke shows great instincts, using a frenetic documentary style to hammer home the brutal realities of modern teenage life, but rooting it in an unusually sensitive portrait of mother and daughter.
The tight bond between Holly Hunter's ageing hippy chick, Melanie, and the apple of her eye, Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), soon starts to wear under the pressure of Tracy's budding friendship with local bad girl Evie (Nikki Reed). Their catalogue of mischief includes shoplifting, taking drugs, selling drugs, having casual (sometimes group) sex, underage drinking, taking drugs, and piercing parts of the body once reserved for sucking lollipops. Say no more.
In short, Thirteen is to parents what The Exorcist once was to teenagers: terrifying. What makes it even more unsettling is the fact that it's based on Nikki Reed's own experiences. Showing courage, as both co-screenwriter and supporting actress, Reed impresses with her ability to capture the vulnerability beneath Evie's studded exterior, while Evan Rachel Wood explodes with the flaring intensity of a star in the making.
Nonetheless it is Holly Hunter who keeps Thirteen from veering into a yawning pit of obnoxiousness. She is the steady counterbalance to what otherwise could be written off as a sensationalist and attention-seeking debut from Hardwicke. Her struggle to keep a grip inspires sympathy, not just for her own character, but also for the two young leads.
In all, Thirteen could be described as the anti-American Pie. It's definitely a lot less funny, but equally hard to swallow in places. Crucially, this teen flick comes filled with genuine tenderness instead of the usual sugar coating.