It starts with a punch in the face as two giggling, gassed-up 'tween-age girls huff nitrous oxide from whipped-cream cans and smack each other around for kicks. "Harder," they scream, laughing. "I can't feel anything!" It's a shock effect worthy of Larry Clark, but production designer-turned-director Catherine Hardwicke's first feature manages to skirt cheap...read more
It starts with a punch in the face as two giggling, gassed-up 'tween-age girls huff nitrous oxide from whipped-cream cans and smack each other around for kicks. "Harder," they scream, laughing. "I can't feel anything!" It's a shock effect worthy of Larry Clark, but production designer-turned-director Catherine Hardwicke's first feature manages to skirt cheap sensationalism. And what it lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in impact; it's one of the most honest and harrowing looks at female adolescence ever to reach the screen. Thirteen-year-old Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) and her older brother, Mason (Brady Corbet), live in suburban L.A. with their mom, Melanie (Holly Hunter), a hardworking divorcee who, between her ex-husband's sporadic child support payments, makes ends meet by turning their kitchen into a hair salon. A good student who writes poetry when she's not studying with her friends, Tracy nevertheless falls under the beguiling spell of Evie Zamora (Nikki Reed), the "hottest chick" in Portola Middle School and the leader of an elite, cell-phone wielding posse of 13 year-olds in low-slung jeans, barely-there T-shirts, thongs and body jewelry. Tracy is thrilled when Evie invites her to come "shopping" on Melrose, and when Tracy realizes that shopping really means shoplifting, she proves herself by stealing an unsuspecting woman's wallet. Within days, Tracy's transformed. she's dumped her old friends and completely co-opted Evie's sexpot look; she's also dropping acid, hanging out with much-older boys, getting her tongue pierced and blowing off school. Mel, a recovering alcoholic with questionable judgment, notices the change and suspects there's something's not quite right about the ingratiating Evie, who's practically moved in, but Mel's too preoccupied with maintaining her sobriety to set proper limits. Evie's guardian, Brooke (Deborah Kara Unger), a model/actress/bartender with a drinking problem of her own, is too absorbed in her own collapsing life to keep tabs on her charge. But the pressures are mounting, and when Mel's ex-boyfriend Brady (Jeremy Sisto), whom Tracy loathes, makes a surprise reappearance, the stage is set for this already fragile family to blow apart. Both Wood and Reed are frighteningly good, and the film wields a raw edge that feels entirely real. Credit Reed, who cowrote the script with Hardwicke, and served as the film's chief inspiration. The film is not without its share of awkward moments, but as an insightful critique of "Girl Culture" and the mounting war over the hearts and minds of adolescent girls that's currently being waged in the media, it's mandatory viewing.