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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie's R rating comes from frank and explicit -- but thoughtful -- treatment of the subject matter -- how peer pressure can lure kids away from their moorings and their families. Characters constantly use very strong language. Teenagers engage in every possible self-destructive behavior -- they smoke, take drugs, steal, lie, and pierce their tongues and belly buttons. They have sex that is so casual it is almost anonymous. There is also adult substance abuse and every one acts out. There are very tense family confrontations. This is a good example of how the MPAA rating system fails, because there are stupid comedies that deal with the same issues as this movie that are rated PG-13. This movie --if your teen can handle very mature subject matter -- deals more intelligently and forthrightly with the consequences of the behavior it depicts than some PG-13 offerings.
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What's the story?
They say that the two worst years of a woman's life are the year she is 13 and the year her daughter is. We get to experience both at once in THIRTEEN, about 7th grader Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood), who's catapulted into self-destructive behavior because she wants so badly to be accepted, to be cool, and to numb some of the pain of growing up. Tracy lives with her brother Mason (Brady Corbet) and their mother, Mel (Holly Hunter), a loving but damaged recovering alcoholic who does her best to support the family. On the first day of 7th grade, there are always a couple of kids who really hit the puberty jackpot over the summer. Just as the rest are at their most clumsy, insecure, and vulnerable, those impossibly sure and golden kids appear to have arrived at the destination while everyone else is still trying to find the map. For Tracy, it is Evie (co-screenwriter Nikki Reed), who seems to have everything she desires. So when Evie introduces her to drugs (taking them and selling them), shoplifting, body-piercing, lying, and sex, it seems a small price to pay for feeling accepted or, to use a word that is only used about teenagers or celebrities, "popular."
Is it any good?
This film has great strengths -- particularly its authenticity of detail and its genuine commitment, even tenderness, toward its subject matter. This really shows in the performances. Hunter is fearless in revealing Mel's fragility, her generosity, and the deep, deep love for her children that grounds her. Wood is breathtakingly open; every ounce of the joy and anguish she feels in heart-breaking relief on her face. Wood shows us Evie's wounded child inside the cool manipulator. The script has some particularly subtle and perceptive moments, especially when Tracy's father keeps asking for the problem to be explained to him "in a nutshell."
On the other hand, it would be nice if Tracy didn't have to take on every single one of every parent's worst nightmares; in addition to substance abuse, sexual involvement, lying, stealing, and failing in school, she develops an eating disorder and cuts herself. There are enough teenage problems in this movie to fill a decade's worth of after-school-specials. But the film's weaknesses are the weaknesses of youth and inexperience, and that is actually very appropriate for the subject matter.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how easy it was for Tracy to slip away from everything she had learned. Why was Evie's friendship so important to her? Why was Tracy important to Evie?
Why was it so hard for Mel to say "no" to anyone?
If you decide to watch this movie with your teen, be prepared for frank discussions afterward.
- In theaters: August 21, 2003
- On DVD or streaming: January 26, 2004
- Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter, Nikki Reed
- Director: Catherine Hardwicke
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: drug use, self-destructive violence, language and sexuality