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Cinema Signal:

Teenage Rebellion

. "Thirteen"

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 mother's affection.

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 believe.

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 hilt.

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.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
I disagree with the review

Its a great movie. Some people may not believe this happens but it does. Most girls over here have been through that stuff - take me for example.

                                                 ~~ Jenny, age 14, NYC
Very well written
I'll get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer
I disagree with the review
Rating: 9

the movie was more realistic and beautiful b/c of the cinematography but i do agree about some of the trouble being piled on for this one girl, but the fact is the script was innovative and because it was written by 13 year old Nikki Reed and was semi-based on her experiences makes it credible.....And Holly Hunter is phenomenal, don't you just love her!!!!!! But, I think you make very valid points, I enjoyed your review!

                                                 ~~ Tim N.

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