Have you ever seen a film and thought to yourself, “Oh my God, that’s my life?”
That’s the way I always feel whenever I see the 2003 film Thirteen. Thirteen is one of my favorite movies but I always get uncomfortable whenever I watch it because a lot of the film hits really close to home for me. Thirteen tells the story of 13 year-old Tracy (played, in an amazing performance, by Evan Rachel Wood) who, after befriending Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed, who also co-wrote the script along with director Catherine Hardwicke), goes wild. Soon, Tracy is shoplifting, self-harming, experimenting with drugs and sex, and striking out at her mother, Melanie (Oscar nominee Holly Hunter).
As played by Hunter, Melanie is probably one of the best moms to ever show up in a contemporary film. I’m tempted to say that Hunter’s performance here is the American equivalent to Sophia Loren’s work in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women. Melanie is not portrayed as being perfect. Instead, she’s a recovering alcoholic who is dating a former drug addict (played by Jeremy Sisto) and she doesn’t always say the right thing and sometimes she does wish that she could just be selfish and not have to deal with her rebellious daughter. When Evie, claiming that she’s being abused at her own home, literally moves in with Tracy, Melanie instinctively knows that Evie is a bad influence but she can’t bring herself to turn her away. And yet, for all the mistakes that she makes, Melanie is still a good mom. She loves her daughter and finally proves that she’s willing to sacrifice her own happiness to try to save Tracy. Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of 2003, but it should have gone to Holly Hunter.
Thirteen was the directorial debut of one of my favorite director, Catherine Hardwicke. Hardwicke doesn’t get the critical respect that she deserves, largely because she directed the first Twilight. (Twilight, however, is not a badly directed film. The trouble is with the source material, not Hardwicke’s direction.) With Thirteen, Hardwicke approaches the film with a matter-of-fact directness that keep the movie grounded and prevents it from going over-the-top with its nonstop parade of delinquent behavior.
It’s a difficult film for me to watch because, when I was thirteen, I basically was Tracy. I was angry at my Dad for leaving us and a part of me blamed my mom but an even bigger part of me blamed myself. Like Tracy, I felt as if I had been abandoned and I felt as if control of my life was out of my hands. I resented the life that I imagined I would never get to live and so, I went out of my way to make sure that everyone knew that I didn’t need them but they certainly needed me. I struck out in whatever way I could and, looking back at it now, I know that, basically from the ages of 13 to 17, I caused a lot of unneccessary pain to the people who loved me.
Thirteen captures all of that perfectly and, therefore, it’s not easy for me to watch. But, at the same time, I’m always glad after I do watch it because I know that I turned out okay and that gives me hope that, despite the film’s ambiguous ending, Tracy will turn out okay as well.