Lucky ‘Thirteen’ packs a punch

Leigh Gaston

In the most powerful display of realism to hit screens in the past decade, “Thirteen” crosses the proverbial line that separates entertainment from art. It is the optimal representation of adolescent America, defying Hollywood’s stereotype of the hilarious teen deviant, and portraying the severity of contemporary teenage life. Sixteen-year-old Evan Rachel Wood, starlet of “Thirteen,” plays 13-year-old Tracy with the precision of an AK-47, evoking every emotion imaginable in her heart-wrenching portrayal of the jaded middle-schooler.

Tracy, the inadequate Melrose teen, comes from a broken home, an arrangement that is inching toward the norm in modern day American families. In addition to the normal inadequacies that come with being a teenager, Tracy suffers rejection by her happily remarried father and resentment toward her financially destitute mother Mel. In the midst of her mother’s preoccupation with her cokehead boyfriend and her father’s countless cancellations, Tracy finds confidence and comfort in the likes of Evie Zamora, “the hottest girl in the seventh grade.” Evie, played by 15-year-old Nikki Reed, is a peer pressure catalyst, preying on the insecurities of young hopefuls like Tracy. Silently proclaiming, “The sky’s the limit,” Evie drags Tracy into a world of drugs, sex and alcohol. Tracy is tested beyond her limits as she begins a vicious downward spiral that exposes hidden feelings of self-hatred, resentment and abandonment.

In an act of cinematic genius, “Thirteen” doesn’t miss a beat. In silences that left me breathless, the frustrations of a helpless mother and the deterioration of a young girl are brought to life. Mel, played by Holly Hunter, is the figurehead every parent viewer should identify with. She is the epitome a mother in denial, ignoring the warning signs she is silently hand-fed. Mel’s character gracefully addresses the tendency of parents to underestimate the deviousness of their own children, brushing off abnormal behaviors as teenage normality. As Mel’s relationship with her daughter slowly disintegrates, the intimate conversations that once defined their close relationship become nonexistent, replaced by horrific screaming matches and angry tears.

The countless gasps and tears that filled Philadelphia’s Ritz Five on Friday night were a testament to the stark pragmatism that hit home for many viewers. With an array of prevailing themes including divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction and peer pressure, “Thirteen” has more than enough tribulations with which to identify. Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter and Nikki Reed act with an ease that feels like home. They bring down the house, literally. There is no excuse to forego this dashing representation of teenage existence, which will leave you wondering where your life ends and Tracy’s begins.