Every parent's nightmare is for their child to enter the world of sex, drugs, and crime, and the younger it is, the worse it is. Thirteen chronicles one such journey. As hard as it is to watch, Thirteen is not exploitative. It is based in part on the experiences of Nikki Reed, the co-writer and co-star. Director and co-writer Catherine Hardwicke helped Reed flesh out the script, after watching her go through a similar transition. Reed was a young innocent girl who suddenly changed into this completely different young woman. It doesn't help that at that age, girls are entering puberty as well as the gauntlet also known as junior high.

Thirteen also fulfills the potential of Evan Rachel Wood (Sim0ne, Little Secrets). Wood has a huge fan base from her days on the defunct Once and Again, but has pretty much had ho-hum film roles. Here she is Tracy, and Tracy is her most complex role to date. Another thing to note is that she has managed to avoid many of the teenybopper movies that actors her age flock to. In taking it, Wood shows that she can successfully handle a variety of intense emotions, and this bodes well for her future as an actress. Tracy is struggling for independence, and feels that she is an adult. Yet, when anger takes the best of her, she lashes out like a spoiled child. This duality is the heart of what Tracy is going through as she tries to establish who she is and will be.

Tracy is the product of a broken marriage. She and her brother live with their mother Melanie (Holly Hunter, Levity, Moonlight Mile) who is a hairstylist. They are struggling to get by. Another often addition to their family is Melanie's boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto, Wrong Turn, Angel Eyes), who spent some time in jail. Tracy resents Brady for some of his actions against Melanie, and his presence causes a considerable amount of tension. The other main cause of tension is Eva (Reed). She is the popular girl at school, and Tracy quickly abandons her friends in order to seek that elusive quality known as popularity. Eva quickly introduces Tracy to her world, which consists of risque clothing, drinking, sex, shoplifting, various types of drugs, and body piercing.

Tracy is reluctant at first, but sees how her peers react and throws herself to Eva with a complete lack of abandon. The transformation is quick, and Melanie notices things too late, and her moment of realization is an eye-opening experience. Tracy is not in full stage rebellion, and Melanie has no idea how to help her. Thirteen's success lies in its realism. Hardwicke is not trying to say that all kids go through these experiences, but that on the entire spectrum, some of them do. This is enforced by the fact that it is based on actual events. Hardwicke and Reed are trying to scare people, not just to scare them or to seem cool, but to say that parents need to stay involved in their children's lives. Tracy went as far as she did because Melanie was too busy. Justifiably so, but still...

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated R for drug use, self-destructive violence, language and sexuality-all involving young teens.

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