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Thirteen shakes up theaters by keeping it real

“This is the best day of my life. I’ll kill you if you ruin it for me,” says a young girl to her mother.

Though many may feel that this is an inappropriate declaration from a thirteen-year-old girl, it’s the type of interjection typical of Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) in Thirteen. In the film, Wood portrays a gifted seventh grade student who, like all teenagers, seeks independence and privacy. But she goes about it in all the wrong ways.

The film is well constructed, the performances are on target and the script is fresh. However, its shocking realism may cause many viewers to cover their eyes. The film’s purpose is extremely straightforward — shock the viewer.

In one scene, in the midst of a disagreement with her mother (Holly Hunter), Tracy tells her mother she needs to replace all her clothes in order to fit in with the popular girls, especially Evie (Nikki Reed). More than anything else, Tracy wants to be considered “cool.” She is so desperate to be friends with Evie that she is willing to do just about anything … and she does. The friendship escalates into a four-month sex, drug and crime free-for-all during which Tracy’s life deteriorates.

The strength of Thirteen is its realism. This film is a completely uncensored look at one girl’s struggle with her identity. Reed co-wrote the screenplay based on her own experiences, and the personal aspect of the story definitely comes through on screen. The director does an excellent job of making this situation as real as possible. When Tracy enters a room, the camera takes on a first person view, through Tracy’s eyes. This is director Catherine Hardwicke’s purpose in making the film; to give the audience insight into how girls at this age think and what their priorities are.

Aiding in the explanation of this portion of life is an impressive performance by Wood. She conveys Tracy’s anger, sadness and emotional confusion with such precision that it is difficult not to see the similarities to real life.

Her troubled relationships with her mother, brother and her mother’s boyfriend give the viewer the feeling that they are watching an episode of reality television rather than a film. The dialogue is not overly emotional or preachy and the situations Tracy finds herself in are not cliché. The audience can only watch in dismay as Tracy makes all the wrong choices and hope that she will inevitably see the error of her ways.

In a way, Tracy’s mother, played quite well by Hunter, must do exactly the same thing. This mother notices that something is wrong with her daughter, but she tries the best she can to give Tracy some desperately desired space. When mom becomes aware of a problem, she deals with it by trying to calm Tracy down. But it’s to no avail. She is oblivious just how out of control her daughter’s life is becoming. And Hunter does a great job of portraying her character’s restrained frustration.

Anyone searching for fun, escapist entertainment should avoid Thirteen. This film is as shocking and disturbing as it is realistic. This is both the film’s gift and its curse. Though Thirteen accurately portrays teenage life, it’s often difficult to watch.

On the other hand, someone looking for an up close and personal look at adolescence can hardly do better than this picture.