[i]Thirteen[/i] is a coming of age story that is bleak and terrifying. Holly Hunter is wonderful as Melanie Freeland, a recovering alcoholic, making her way as a single mother, earning a living as a beauty operator out of her home. She is the cautionary figure for those of us who come to parenthood with baggage that is at times overwhelming - baggage that must be dealt with again and again while having to rise to the daily challenges of parenting in our society. She means to be a good and involved parent, doing remarkably though she lost her mother when she was very young. Melanie's ex-husband's new life leaves him little time for his kids. He the archtypal "absent father" so often found in psychology texts.
The story traces the choices of thirteen year old Tracy Freeland. As Tracy struggles with her homelife, she determines to be the friend of the "hottest" girl in the school, Evie Zamora. Excluded from a day of shopping on Melrose, Tracy steals a wallet to provide cash for Evie and her friends. Now accepted, Tracy adopts the ever-wilder behaviors of her new best friend, moving on to pot, sneaking out, smoking, acid and other drugs, shoplifting, more drugs, more sex, and cutting. Evie, who is willing to use a childhood history of abuse as a lever and weapon, wedges her way into the family, and the problems accelerate. Mom suspects something is very wrong, but things have gone so very far by the time she can pull herself together to intervene that it is difficult to determine which girl is influencing whom.
It is troublesome as a viewer that the movie doesn't come to any conclusion, yet that truthfully portrays the experiences of troubled families, families whose loose ends don't ever neatly tie up and who despite their best efforts seem unable to prevent the damage from moving into the next generation. [i]Thirteen[/i] asks if damaged or single adults are able to raise healthy children. Does their baggage prevent them from being capable of the "due vigilance?" How much does their baggage precipitate the same problems in their own kids?
This is a story that will stay with you. It's a story that should terrify you because its what's going on in junior highs, and middle schools and high schools all over. My daughters, 17 and 19, were captured by the girls' struggles. They told me it was a very realistic portrayal of lots of girls in their high school. My 14 year old son, who didn't watch most of the movie, nevertheless was able to name the girls in his class that this movie portrays. Honestly, it was a wonderful relief to me when circumstances forced us to stop the video midway, giving us a 30-minute break in which we could decompress and which gave me a chance to discuss and vent and learn.
In sort of kismet thing, I had watched Jennifer Garner in [i]13 Going on 30[/i] earlier in the day. Garner's Jenny Rink faces the same defining choice to be cool, but we miss the harrowing part, and find ourselves reaping the rewards of the lifestyle at 30. Garner's Jenny seemingly hasn't had the disabling drug and cutting difficulties that Tracy did, but she isn't a very nice person. The story has a happy ending, because she's able to re-make her choice, but ultimately it is not real life. It's cautionary fluff for girls. Entertaining and very cute at times. But ultimately fluff.
[i]13 Going on 30[/i] is the story you take your 10-year old to before she enters middle school. You watch [i]Thirteen [/i]with your teens.