As a general rule of thumb, if you want to give someone a makeover in a Hollywood movie, your odds of success, often beyond your wildest dreams, are all but guaranteed. This is mainly because the only characters who require remaking are undeniably attractive once they remove a few key elements. Impressive makeovers in the movie pantheon include Patrick Dempsey in “Can’t Buy Me Love,” who wound up looking hot with the sleeves ripped off his shirt; Anne Hathaway in “The Princess Diaries,” after she ditches her specs and frizzy ‘do; and Olivia Newton John in “Grease,” who taught impressionable girls in the seventies that what you really need to appeal to a guy is a pushup bra and pants so tight you need the Jaws of Life to remove them. Twists on the youthful makeover include the original “Freaky Friday,” in which Barbara Harris gets to experience every mother-of-a-teen’s-dream when she gives her daughter (Jodie Foster) a makeover while she is actually in Jodie’s body. (OK, perhaps not the second part.) The result is that Jodie emerges looking awfully like she’s about to go to work at a bank, but all that is soon dispelled when she has to perform in a water-skiing show afterwards. Perhaps female characters are more fun to makeover given that many little girls enjoy pretending to be princesses whereas few little boys pine to become princes.
In “Thirteen,” a 2004 movie, the young star (Evan Rachel Wood) gets an anti-princess makeover of sorts, which leads (as expected) to increased popularity but also (as expected) a lot of risky adventures that teach her some harsh lessons about those who try to grow up too fast. When the movie starts, Evan is the kind of good girl who (literally) plays with Barbies and doesn’t cause her recovering alcoholic single mom (Holly Hunter) to lose sleep. However, she becomes bewitched by the bad girl (Nikki Reed, who wrote the screenplay – as a teen – as well) of her seventh grade class and embarks on an at-first fruitless quest to get her attention. Guilt-tripping her mom until Holly takes her to secure some designer (or close enough) stuff, Evan also experiments with shoplifting – after which, the two girls are close to becoming inseparable. After Nikki, employing the wiles of seasoned bad girls, manages to insert herself into Holly’s household to the point where she stays overnight, confides some disturbing things about her own guardian, the stage is set for the two teens to self-destruct. And this they do, – everything from sexually harassing a neighborhood guy (Kip Purdue) who calls them “jailbait” to body piercing. The film ends with Evan’s former life in flames. Her last word of dialogue is literally, “Stop,” and in case the viewer misses the point, we see her on a merry-go-round.
“Thirteen” will give anyone who has ever seen an Afterschool Special or a Lifetime Movie of the Week about a “good” kid who rapidly goes bad deja vu. Evan experiments with antisocial behavior like it’s a buffet, and she hasn’t seen food for weeks, but the dialogue and the actions of the two young actresses ring true. I suppose parents of teens could watch it and (most of them) feel relief that at least their child’s acting out isn’t as bad as Evan’s. At least Evan, after being initially embarrassed by Nikki, does not do what Winona Ryder in “Heathers” did and plot her murder. The movie does not end on an optimistic note, but I suppose the viewer is free to fill in their own.