Catherine Hardwicke has had a long and distinguished career as a production designer, serving on such films as "Vanilla Sky" and "Three Kings". "Thirteen" is her directorial debut, a picture that has generated controversy at various film festivals and whose ads offer the advice that all parents should see this "wake up call".
Although the film has gotten a remarkably positive reception and a lot of hype, I found it rather difficult to pick out too many positive aspects of this sometimes repetitive film. The picture opens with two girls huffing various substances and finding that they're numb to the world around them. So they start hitting each other. First, it's just a slap, then it escalates to full-out smacks and bloody noses as the two laugh about their state. The scene cuts to "four months earlier" without ever really making an impact; it's a rather odd thing to start a movie with two girls we haven't met hitting each other - hard - and laughing about it.
As we find out later, the girls are Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Evie (Nikki Reed, the film's co-writer). Tracy is an unpopular girl who lives with her hippie-ish single mother (Holly Hunter). Although rather sweet on the outside, Tracy obviously is depressed and harbors some resentment towards her mother, an aspiring hairdresser who runs somewhat of a hotel where her friends spend time. Tracy becomes even more irritated by the arrival of her Brady, her mother's former coke addict boyfriend (Jeremy Sisto).
Although Tracy gets pushed around in school, her determination to land herself in the popular crowd has her shoplifting in order to impress Evie and her friends. Soon enough, the two are spending increasing amounts of time with one another, doing drugs and getting pierced. As things continue, Tracy becomes much more hostile towards her mother, who finds herself in the position of having to stop being her daughter's "best friend" and actually help her. Hunter's character is really the only sympathetic character in the movie - a single mother and former alcoholic in the middle of sorting out her own life when she finds that the daughter she's trying her best to take care of has turned into a terror.
Overly glossy, "Thirteen" walks a rather tough line with its handheld camerawork, zippy camera movement and pop/punk soundtrack. When it all comes together, it gives the film energy and urgency (the teens, completely high, run through a blurred set of sprinklers). However, there are times when it starts to become annoying, calling too much attention to itself, such as an unintentionally funny, overly serious moment where three girls - blurry, then in focus - march into school to a fuzzy rock tune. As per usual with cinematographer Elliot Davis ("I Am Sam", "Happy Campers"), this is a film far more stylized than it needed to be, complete with Davis' usual wide array of filters and the choice to bleach the film in the second half, pulling out the colors. Despite being more of a comedy, Doug Liman's "Go" was a much better fusion of sound and imagery.
There's other issues here, too. Given the fact that there's little in the way of plot, bouncing back-and-forth between another "adventure" with the two girls and scenes where Tracy yells at her mother starts to get repetitive, at least until the powerful final confrontation between the two. Also, despite the fact that Evan Rachel Wood is a remarkable talent (see a superb supporting role in last year's "Simone") and will be a major star someday, she just doesn't seem right for the role. She's too delicate to be a bad girl (despite the fact that similar actress Sarah Polley pulled it off a bit better in "Go") and the transformation happens too quickly. Nikki Reed is more convincing as the manipulative Evie, and I enjoyed that the writer/actress gave the traditional "bad influence" a few more layers than the type usually has. Holly Hunter is, as expected, excellent in the role of a well-meaning single mother who is trying to improve herself, making mistakes and learning and trying to move forward.
I'm certainly not going to say that "Thirteen" is a bad film, just an incomplete one. Certainly, teenage girls are getting pushed from all sides - the usual academic pressures are accompanied by a society whose constant images of what you should be and what you should look like are always present, not to mention constant pressures from their peer group. Parents, whether in a single or two-parent household, face a difficult road in trying to steer their children clear of the dangers that modern society holds. However, "Thirteen" simply seems content with turning most of the situation into a pile-up of bigger and bigger troubles rather than actually taking a subtle, silent moment to try and get deeper into the character's heads and really understand their troubles.
VIDEO: "Thirteen" is presented by Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame on this DVD, which is dual-sided, with each edition getting a single-layered side of the disc. As for the anamorphic widescreen edition, it's actually rather good, and better than I remember the film looking theatrically. The grain that was apparent in the theatrical presentation seemed noticably less apparent here, and the film seemed crisper and more detailed than the softer looking theatrical print I viewed.
Still, while the presentation looked largely fine, there were a couple of mild issues that were spotted. Some scenes had a few rather noticable compression artifacts, while a little bit of edge enhancement turned up in a couple of scenes. The print looked in very good condition, with no specks or marks. Colors generally appeared accurately rendered, with nice saturation and only a little bit or smearing in some of the more vivid colors.
SOUND: "Thirteen" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. There really wasn't very much to the film's soundtrack, as the surrounds were almost never used, aside from a moment or two. The occasional music was nicely spread across the front speakers, but other than some music now-and-then, this was largely a dialogue-driven feature.
Commentary: This is a commentary from writer/director Catherine Hardwicke, co-writer/actress Nikki Reed, actress Evan Rachel Wood and actor Brady Corbet. The commentary is a largely fun affair, as the participants joke and laugh about some of the on-set situations that came up, talk about their performances, discuss some of the issues within the film and point out some smaller details of scenes to the audience. Reed and Hardwicke start off the track - and occasionally talk about again during the film - about how they knew each other and developed the screenplay.
Deleted Scenes: 10 deleted scenes are offered, with optional commentary from director Catherine Hardwicke. These scenes are largely deletions due to pacing, but I actually thought some of them would have helped the movie, since they filled out certain characters a bit more.
Also: The film's theatrical trailer and a 6-minute "making of" featurette.
Final Thoughts: "Thirteen" offers fine performances and occasionally, hits the mark in delivering a teen drama that depicts some of the horrors of going through teen years in modern society. However, much of the movie seems more concerned with shocking the audience and piling up trouble for the characters than really getting to the heart of the character's problems. Fox's DVD offers good audio/video quality and a couple of fine supplements. Recommended for fans, others should try a rental first.