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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Anne Marie Fox. Fox Searchlight Pictures © 2003)

photo caption:
MOVIE-MAKING: Director of photography Elliot Davis, behind camera, and Director Catherine Hardwicke, right, are shown on the set of "Thirteen," a film that was completed in only 24 days.end caption.nd of caption


"Thirteen": Once Troubled Adolescent Writes and Stars in Film

Review by Kam Williams

One can't help but observe that children are growing up faster then ever nowadays. A combination of absentee parenting, unmonitored cable-TV viewing, unrestricted internet surfing and undue peer pressure has been leading many a pre-pubescent junior high schooler down a dangerous and destructive path of experimentation with sex, drugs, alcohol, tattoos and body piercings.

Nikki Reed was just such an L.A. latchkey kid in crisis, when she was lucky enough to have Catherine Hardwicke take an interest in her. Hardwicke, an ex-girlfriend of the youngster's father, had become alarmed by some rather dramatic changes in the 13-year-old's personality. Nikki had suddenly become angry and uncommunicative, and also began to devote countless hours to her appearance.

To get to the bottom of the problem, Hardwicke decided to spend more time with Nikki, suggesting several artistic avenues as a means of enabling the troubled teen to share what was going on inside her. Little did either of them know that the sessions would lead to their collaborating on a critically acclaimed feature film. Thirteen marks both Hardwicke's directorial debut and the recovered Reed's acting debut, the latter made at the still tender age of only 14. The screenplay, written by the two in tandem, is based on actual events in the life of Nikki and her circle of friends.

Hardwicke won Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival for this independently produced flick, in spite of its low production values. This super-realistic movie is marked by very distinctive, deliberately grainy looking cinematography, due to every shot being caught via a hand-held camera. But this only adds to the plausibility of the graphic scenarios being depicted on screen, as this semi-autobiographical entry tends to get uncomfortably intimate with its underage leads as they indulge in all manner of ill-advised and illicit behaviors.

To her credit, unproven Hardwicke managed to attract a top-flight cast to this micro-budgeted melodrama made in only 24 days. Thus, the dramatis personae includes Oscar-winner Holly Hunter as Melanie, our heroine's clueless, irresponsible mother. Also aboard is the recently-turned 16 Evan Rachel Wood, who is probably best known as Jesse of the ABC-TV series Once and Again. Ms. Wood appears as Tracy, the ne'er-do-well best friend who leads the way on the road to ruin.

Thirteen's cinema as therapy approach is certain to stir up considerable debate among parents trying to decide whether to allow their own children to see such an uncompromisingly frank movie. On its behalf, I must note that although the film understandably earned an R rating, no one dies, or even ends up in jail or the hospital. Plus, its protagonist, in more lucid moments, is given to some sensitive, childlike insights like, "If everyone marries someone from a different race, then in one generation, there'd be no prejudice."

Yet, it is simultaneously unsettling to watch the same barely-weaned adolescent parade around in "I wanna bone" panties or curse out her mom mercilessly. I can't say whether Thirteen represents statutory voyeurism or a cautionary passion play, but I do know compelling cinema when I see it.

Excellent (3 1/2 stars). Rated R for early teen indulgence in sex, drugs, alcohol, profanity and suicidal tendencies.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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