THIRTEEN directed by Catherine Hardwicke, written by Hardwicke and Nikki Reed, produced by Jeffrey Levy-Hinte and Michael London, with Evan Rachel Wood, Holly Hunter, Reed and Deborah Kara Unger. 95 minutes. A 20th Century Fox release. Opens Friday (August 22). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 68. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
catherine hardwicke is just back from Botswana and South Africa, and her long blond hair whips across her back in African braids. I figure she got it done there.
"No," she laughs, "it's this great place on Crenshaw in L.A."
Hardwicke is full of surprises.
As a production designer, she has an impressive left-field resumé: Tank Girl, Three Kings, Vanilla Sky, Laurel Canyon. But she'd never directed before. Now Hardwicke has a best-director prize from Sundance, all for showing what girls really want. Turns out it is fun, but fun at any cost.
Thirteen begins with two teenage girls falling into a delirium of acting out and dressing up. Evie is the hottest girl in school. Tracy is a dweeb on a righteous make-over path.
"Some girls get that super-closeness," Hardwicke says. "They physically want to hug each other, touch each other, curl up with each other. When they first meet they're like magnets - boom! They're inseparable. One's life is the other's life."
But if Hardwicke starts Thirteen like Heavenly Creatures, she veers it hard into Kids territory. Tracy follows Evie from shoplifting to piercing to laying herself open to boys.
Hardwicke co-wrote the film with Nikki Reed, who plays bad girl Evie in the film. It's an astonishing performance, especially from a girl of 14, and even more because Reed herself lived a story closer to Tracy's. It was Reed who let Hardwicke in on how the teen girl world mingles falling for cute guys with binging and purging, ritual cutting, sexual abuse and intense rage at your mother.
"Nikki told me something interesting," Hardwicke says. "She thinks she was so fierce in rebelling because she was so tight with her mom. She didn't want to go on sleepovers until she was nine, didn't want to go to camp. She was so tight with her mom that she just had to kick really hard to get away."
Although Thirteen stays close to the specifics of two fictional girls (with Holly Hunter turning in a ferocious performance as Tracy's mother), Hardwicke sees Tracy's rebellion as something most girls go through. She even remembers her own teenage tear.
"I'm from a little tiny hick town in south Texas," she says, "and it was major make-out parties in seventh grade. Our parents didn't know anything about it. Dark rooms, drugs, lots of drinking. We had the Mexican border close by, and you could go over there and drink at any age. Ten years old and you could be in a bar - like, woohoo!, tequila shots all night.
"I walked into a bar over there with my Girl Scout ID card," she recalls.
So some things never change.
"I had an 85-year-old woman come up to me at a screening in New York who said, 'I was just like that, except I was sneaking out, smoking cigarettes, listening to Billie Holiday and wearing coloured stockings.'
"But some things are different," Hardwicke admits. "The sexualization of all the teen pop stars, the super-outrageous clothes, the fact that porn stars are crossing over into mainstream magazines.
"I think it's confusing. Are you ready to dress like Christina Aguilera at 12 and 13 years old? Are you supposed to do like everyone says and go to the back of the bus and give blow jobs on the way to school?
"Is that acceptable? Is that cool?"