Picks and Pans Review: Thirteen

updated 09/01/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/01/2003 01:00AM

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.

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