Thirteen  (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

One of the audience members at the Sundance premiere asked Holly Hunter why she agreed to do this low budget project. Her answer was that the script had an "authenticity" which attracted her. Already acknowledged as a fine actress, Hunter demonstrated that she's not a bad film critic either. I didn't find this a very pleasant watch, but it certainly did have a freshness of perspective and authenticity about it. It feels like watching real life.

The film really takes a major step toward fusing valid, commercially-viable dramatic structure with cinema verite. It is the story of a 13 year old girl, as written by a 13 year old girl and an auteur. It is, I am certain, not purely autobiographical. The girl took bits and pieces out of her own life and other lives around her to try to tell the world what it is like to be a 13 year old girl, facing the inherent peer pressure. The film shares a sense of immediacy with the works of Dogme or cinema verite auteurs, but it is much more polished than implied by that statement. Although the young girl provided the details of the characters and atmosphere, the adult co-author brought in some cohesive storylines, while the director and cinematographer used some polished suggestive techniques to shape and reinforce the storyline, moving to a richer saturation, a full palette, and softer focus when the young girl is first accepted by the cool crowd, then desaturating, moving to harsher lighting and a cooler palette when it all goes sour.

Then the kid got back in the batter's box to make sure the characters were using the right slang and listening to the right songs.

Voila! Neo-realism. It's all true, in a sense, and as Ms Hunter noted, "authentic", yet it is a film which can be watched by mainstream audiences who are consciously in need of a plot and conflict/resolution.

Plot summary: A good 7th grade girl wants to be accepted by the cool crowd. Her quest for acceptance leads to a dangerous, reckless friendship with the "hottest chick in her school", which leads to experimentation with sex, drugs, lies, shoplifting, and attitude. Her dysfunctional family struggles to get past their own problems long enough to see her crisis and (maybe) rescue her. 


NUDITY: Topless nudity from Holly Hunter. She also does a very brief frontal.

There is teen experimentation with drugs and sex, but no nudity from the teens. The adults also engage in some drug use and violence. There are some graphic scenes of piercing and self-mutilation.

DVD info from Amazon

  • Commentary by director/co-writer Catherine Hardwicke, co-writer/actor Nikki Reed, and actors Evan Rachel Wood and Brady Corbet

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • 10 deleted scenes with commentary

  • Making-of featurette

  • Full-screen and widescreen anamorphic formats

It's a good first movie from Catherine Hardwicke, doing precisely what independent films probably should do - personalizing, experimenting, trying to get inside of real characters. In fact, Ms Hardwicke and Miss Reed (the co-authors) originally thought they might come up with a teen comedy, but the reality they uncovered wrote itself as a slice-of-life psychological drama.

Bravo for neo-realism. Whoda thunk that someone making a movie about a 13 year old girl would ask a 13 year old girl to be her co-author? Not Hollywood.


Thirteen is an ultra low budget written by a Hollywood professional and a 13 year old girl, who was the daughter of one of her friends. She noticed the girl had suddenly become a "problem child" when puberty hit, and befriended her to channel some of her adolescent energy into creative directions. They decided to collaborate on a script. It was originally to be some light teen comedy, but they quickly realized that there was a real story in the sort of rebellion and pressures that modern teens go through, thus the film was born.

The young girl (Nikki Reed) played one of two main characters and the woman (Catherine Hardwicke) directed. They were willing to shoot the thing on home video just to get it made, but managed to get Holly Hunter to play the lead role of the mother, and then found some financing and a quality cast easier to come by. It was shot in less than a month on super 1 mm.

It is not a pleasant film. The girls' rebellion includes shoplifting, drug use, self-mutilation, sex, and being total bitches to everyone around them. Hunter was superb as the mother, all the characters were well developed, but what made this an outstanding film was the authenticity of the script. It is hard to beat having someone write a story having recently lived it.

A warning to the squeamish -- the self mutilation is pretty hard to watch.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, BBC 4/5, Owen Gleiberman A.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $2 million for production, and grossed $4.6 million. (Max 243 theaters)
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this is a C+. Not a commercial, mainstream film, but a pretty good arthouse offering." Tuna opines, "This will certainly not be to everyone's taste, but this is exactly what indie films should be about, fresh approaches to fresh material, and this one could not have been done better at any budget. C+"

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