Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed
DRAMA
Critic's Choice

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Parents with daughters in their teens should be forewarned: Thirteen is your worst nightmare of what could befall your little princess. It is also one of the year's sharper independent films, with first-time director-cowriter Catherine Hardwicke taking a clear-eyed if slightly lurid look at the pressures facing adolescent girls today.

In this drama set in L.A., 13-year-old Tracy (Wood) slides from geeky good girl to sexually promiscuous, shoplifting druggie in a few scant months after falling under the sway of a deeply troubled but popular classmate (Reed, see page 87). What makes this cautionary tale so disturbing is that it is so understanding of its characters and spot-on in its details—especially how girls of this age talk, dress and squeal—that Tracy's hasty descent is convincing. It helps that Thirteen is impeccably acted, beginning with Hunter's fierce portrayal of Tracy's caring but ill-equipped single mom, an ex-alcoholic scraping by as a hairdresser. The single scariest thing about Thirteen, though, is that it was cowritten by Reed, who was 13 herself at the time. Consider her, and her film, an antidote to the Lizzie McGuire-ish bubblegum Hollywood is churning out. (R)

BOTTOM LINE: Terrific look at a troubled teen.

Autumn Spring: In this enchanting, bittersweet Czech comedy, a roguish elderly gent (the late, great Vlastimil Brodsky) refuses to act his age, much to the frustration of his loving wife. If only Walter Matthau were still alive; he'd be perfect for the sure-to-come Hollywood remake. (PG-13)

Don't Tempt Me: Penélope Cruz amuses herself more than viewers playing a swaggering assistant to Satan who battles it out with an angel for a boxer's soul in this overwrought, philosophical Spanish comedy. (R)

Passionada: A Portuguese-American widow (Sofia Milos of TV's CSI: Miami) is wooed by an English card sharp (Jason Isaacs) in an underdeveloped wisp of a feel-good love story. (PG-13)

Stoked: The Rise and Fail of Gator: An intriguing documentary looks at Mark "Gator" Rogowski, a top pro skateboarder who, after fame and hard living took their toll, ended up in prison for killing a young woman. (Not rated)

This month Animal House marks its 25th anniversary with—not a toga party—a DVD release. While some campus cutups, like Tim Matheson and Peter Riegert, are film and TV regulars, others have been less visible.

Thomas Hulce, 49 (Larry) An Oscar nominee for 1984's Amadeus and the voice of Quasimodo in '96's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he now focuses on producing theater and films.

Karen Allen, 51 (Katy) Teaches knitting and acts (2001's In the Bedroom). Founded a yoga center in upstate New York. Motherhood (to Nicholas, 13) gave her an "understanding of what I'm doing on the planet."

Stephen Furst, 48 (Flounder) Acts (TVs Scrubs) and wrote a 2002 memoir, Confessions of a Couch Potato, on losing 150 lbs.

Bruce McGill, 53 (D-Day) U.S. Senator—in Legally Blonde 2, that is. He also stars in the upcoming Runaway Jury.

John Vernon, 71 (Dean Wormer) Has done voice-overs and a cameo in '02's Animal House knockoff, Sorority Boys.

James Widdoes, 49 (Hoover) TV director (Reba, My Wife and Kids). Filming the toga party was his most memorable moment. "It was a three-day ordeal. All those sweaty bodies."

  • Contributors:
  • Leah Rozen,
  • Johnny Dodd.