Watch now on:
[As you read this, I recommend listening to Liz Phair’s “Explain it to Me.” Or before you read it. Or after. Or always. It’s such a damn good song that sounds like how it feels to be a teenage girl.]
Although I spent most of my 13th year eating Little Debbie snack cakes and reading Lois Duncan novels, there’s something about 2003’s Thirteen, the tale of a good girl gone temporarily bad, that cuts me to the bone. Maybe it’s the unsentimental look at junior high, or the recognizable girl tropes (bitch, snob, nerd), or the fact that so many movies get teenagers wrong, yet this one nails it. And it nails it so well that its director, Catherine Hardwicke, was tapped by producers to direct the first Twilight movie.
When I was in eighth grade, there was a girl, Noel. She cut class, she wore gobs of eyeliner, she allegedly had sex with boys. She wasn’t like me. I didn’t even know what sex was. She scared me, but I wanted to be close to her. I didn’t have enough guts to try to run with Noel, but if I had, I would be the Tracy in Thirteen.
Chronicling the decline of Tracy, a barely-teenager who goes from playing with Barbies to doing coke and giving blow jobs faster than you can do an algebra proof, Thirteen is a sobering look at the realities of growing up a girl in the United States. The movie is most often compared to Kids because it’s a harsh, dirty look at a teen world adults would rather ignore, but whereas Kids’ reality is dark and decidedly male, Thirteen offers a more feminine view of that daunting time. Being a 13-year-old girl is difficult—even if you hide in the library and avoid bras long after they’re necessary (SPEAKING FOR A FRIEND). Add to the mix a difficult home life with a mom who’s in recovery and struggling to support her daughter (played by Holly Hunter, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her stellar performance) and a best friend who is hell-bent on dragging you down to her level, and it seems damn near impossible.
Listen, I’m gonna break it down for you: This is not a movie to watch when you want to veg out on the couch, eat an entire pie, and forget about your worries. This is a movie to see while covered in a mound of blankets—it will make you reconnect with that distinct teenage feeling of the world being unfair, of nothing ever being okay again.
Except, maybe if you can just get through all this bullshit, it will be. And you will get through it. And dude, as much as high school sucks, college is gonna rule. That is the light at the end of the teenage-girl-angst tunnel, and Thirteen makes you remember it all.