Thirteen

2000, Movie, NR, 87 mins

Review

THIRTEEN
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Loosely structured and casually beautiful, this unassuming account of a year in the life of 13-year-old Virginia native Nina (Nina Dickens) and her mother, Lillian (Lillian Folley), looks like a documentary but isn't — not exactly. Painter-turned-filmmaker David D. Williams cast nonprofessionals — Lillian is Nina's adoptive mother, it was shot in their house — and encouraged them to improvise on situations that could have been drawn from their own experiences. It begins with Lillian telling two social workers about Nina's behavior over the last several weeks, starting with her 13th birthday party and leading up to her disappearance one ordinary afternoon. A neighbor saw Nina hitching on the highway; before he could reach her, she'd climbed into a car. Lillian's friends and family rally, authorities are called, and as you're settling in for a story driven by a mystery, Nina walks back in. She's been gone for four days, and nothing much happened, but she's suddenly gripped by the burning desire to buy a car, and starts babysitting, looking after pets, washing cars and the like to earn money. By the time the film ends, at Nina's 14th birthday party, she's weathered a series of small but pivotal experiences: the death of a dog, an argument with a friend, a first date. Nina, a quiet, almost sullen girl who occasionally reveals a flash of good humor, and the chatty, well-grounded Lillian come to vivid life under the camera's unobtrusive gaze; this leg of Nina's passage toward adulthood is without clichés or false melodrama. Made in 1998, this quietly gripping film is both universal and particular: It charts the ebb and flow of the relationship between a particular mother and her particular child, at a particular time in their lives, but speaks on a broader level of all familial ties. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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