For a good long while into this movie, two wishes came to mind: a dramamine
to combat the sea sickness brought on by the hand-held camera following
frenetic subject matter; and that the storyline would go more into the
mother's life than the teenage daughter's. I got no satisfaction. The loose
camera was unrelenting; the story never left the travails of the daughter.
No one said being thirteen was a waltz in the park and, as this manual for
parents and teens shows, it's no turkey shoot to raise one.
The first symptom of trouble ahead for Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) is her
idolization of the "hottest girl in school", Evie (Nikki Reed). So, when
Evie agrees to make Tracy "my girl" and take her into her world of
shoplifting hot clothes and makeup, making out with boys, getting pierced and
using drugs, Tracy is transported to a fever zone of delight, and devil take
the hindmost as far as family and friends are concerned.
But, as in "be careful what you wish for -- you might get it" mode, Tracy's
emotional needs are unfulfilled as she elevates her self-destructive path.
We also find out that Evie has her own agenda, like being adopted into
Tracy's family in order to escape her own. Kind of ironic, since Tracy is
caring less about her broken world of adults. Her parents divorced, her
father too wrapped up in his work to see her often enough, she takes it out
on mom's always supportive boyfriend as though he were a threat to her
Trouble is, the problems are a little piled on. We look for the adequate
basis for the rebellion, the cries for help in the wrong places, like
slitting her wrist repeatedly, like slut-like behavior with boys, etc. She
does all the things a deeply disturbed teen is known to do -- we just aren't
convinced of the psycho-logic behind it. She warrants no sympathy if she
goes far wronger than the circumstances provide. We're being pushed to
Director Catherine Hardwicke, coming from an art director-production designer
background ("Laurel Canyon", "Vanilla Sky") seems to know where her
commercial bread is buttered on for this, her first directorial bid. She and
co-writer Nikki Reed (yes, Evie in the movie) have left no rebellious act
untouched in their portrait of a troubled teen. It may have been a
miscalculation to give their character a mother (Melanie -- Holly Hunter) who
is so loving and essentially undemanding. Tracy seems to manufacture
resentment out of thin air, acting out behaviors to challenge any shrink.
Performances are uniformly good. The horror of where her daughter has been
going and at her own lack of control is well expressed by Holly Hunter,
superb actress that she is. And this note comes with more credibility than
the causality of it all. That's one hint of praise for the creative team.
They got mom right. Rachel Evan Wood is nothing if not convincing and fully
committed. Nikki Reed is a different kind of Jezebel and she plays it to the
The production values are mixed. No lack of rich environmental propping on
these sets -- to be expected from this director's background. And, while
the lighting and lab manipulation of the negative called for by
cinematographer Elliot Davis are outstanding, his loose camera is not. The
picture cries for a firm stand on which to place the camera. This style of
movie making is not the avant garde miracle some think it is. It's an
overworn technique to cover a low budget. From the set gremlins I've
listened to, there wasn't a tripod or camera dolly in sight.
Despite that, some underground buzz indicates enough interest from its target
audience to ensure it goes into profit, considering its scale budgeting.
It's a smart pickup for Fox Searchlight but a thematic letdown for mature
audiences. Still, there's some resonance here for teens and parents who
could take it as a cautionary tale. Just don't forget to pop a dramamine
for the sea-sickness you might have to endure.
~~ Jules Brenner