Thirteen

Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, about the sex and drugs experiences of a 13-year-old girl, is a powerful movie, with great acting and interesting, lively direction. Digital camera, often handheld and shaky, lots of pans, lots of quick edits, manipulation of color to be supersaturated in druggy, decadent scenes and washed out in tragic family ones: these are all the kinds of things that many critics condemn as facile and gimmicky, but for me it works, it crackles and jumps, it moves; although it seems at this point less like auteurial expression than a style as codified as classical Hollywood ‘invisible’ editing ever was.
But I was bothered, finally, by how conservative and moralistic Thirteen is, once you get past its lurid will to shock (or, perhaps, such moralism is the inevitable correlate of a lurid will to shock). The film presents its thirteen-year-old protagonist’s giddy experiences (hedonism as a mask for despair) as a veritable descent into hell: Pleasure Is Bad For You. (Nothing she does would be all that shocking for a 16-year-old white girl in southern California: pot, beer, sniffing aerosol cans, heavier drugs only on rare occasions; shoplifitng, slutwear, piercing; going down on slightly older boys who — oh my god — are black; and a little scarification when the pain gets too great; but the movie wants to magnify it all by playing on our thoughts that thirteen is way too young).
And the anatomy of why she does what she does is pretty cliched, once you look past the great performances: broken home, a mom who doesn’t spend enough time with her daughter, an absent father, a manipulative slut of a best friend, etc: a “family values” analysis that is totally consonant with the Republican Party platform.
The film probably gets the teen slang and mores down (as far as I can guess; no way I could really know, since I’m 50 and my daughter is only 1 1/2). But alas, there is no Bataillean excess here. And as a portrait of teen girls’ folie a deux, Thirteen is far inferior to Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (his best movie, LOTR notwithstanding) or Rafal Zielinski’s almost entirely unknown and utterly brilliant Fun.

One Response to “Thirteen”

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