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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > 13 Going on 30

MOVIE REVIEWS

13 GOING ON 30  (2004)

Starring Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Christa B. Allen, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves, Alex Black, Alexandra Kyle, Renee Olstead, Joe Grifasi, Mary Pat Gleason, Merris Carden, Courtney Chase, Maz Jobrani, Lynn Collins, Robinne Lee, Sarah Loew, Philip Pavel and Jim Gaffigan.

Screenplay by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa.

Directed by Gary Winick.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures.  97 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

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13 Going on 30

Back in 1987 and 1988 there was a strange invasion of the “body-switcher” movies.  In slightly over a year there were four movies in which children’s minds were suddenly transported into adult bodies (and the other way around.)  Most of them had children switching places with their parents or Grandparents.  There was Vice Versa with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage, Like Father, Like Son with Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron and 18 Again with George Burns and Charlie Schlatter.  The last of those films, the best of them, and frankly the only one anyone still remembers, was Tom Hanks in BigThat was because the film didn't get bogged down in the gimmick.  It only looked at one side of the equation, a little boy in a man’s body.  The reason that film has been so beloved over the years while the others have faded away is not just because Big was better written and filmed.  (Though it was.)  However, Big has become a classic because of the wonder and great joy of discovery that Tom Hanks brought to his part.

Well, as the title of this new film points out, the people who were thirteen when those films came out are thirty now.  There is a whole new audience for the body-switcher movie.  The return of the genre started off with last year's remake of the Disney classic Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan.  Now, we get a female variation on Big starring Jennifer Garner of TV’s Alias in her first starring role.

This film starts in 1987.  (I think it’s just a coincidence that the film takes place in the year of the movie trend, but who knows?)  Jenna is a 13-year-old who wants to be part of her junior high’s Heathers-esque in girl clique.  Despite being warned by Matt, her chubby loser best friend, that they are evil and mean, Jenna wants nothing more than to fit in their group.  The leader of their group (who has the unlikely nickname Tom Tom) tells Jenna that she will come to her thirteenth birthday party and bring the cute guy she has a crush on, if Jenna will write a paper for her.  When the girls end up playing a cruel trick on her, Jenna sits alone in her closet and wishes that she could be an adult.  When some “wishing dust” that her guy friend gave her trickles down on her, her wish is granted.  Yes, I know that the whole idea of “wishing dust” is kind of a cheap cop out, but in these movies you just have to decide early on if you like the story enough to just go with it… and in this case I did.

Unlike Big, though, Jenna does not just appear as a child in an adult’s body.  Not even just Jennifer Garner’s adult body.  In this film, Jenna just fast-forwards into her life at thirty.  She has lived all the time and has a history of changes and mistakes.  Jenna does not remember the last seventeen years of her life.  However, since that birthday party, she became the leader of the clique, then got her dream job as the hard-bitten editor of Poise, her old favorite teen magazine.  Tom Tom, now going by her real name of Lucy, is her co-worker.  It's now all up to Jenna to connect the dots to figure out how she went from being a sweet, innocent girl to being a cold, manipulating bitch.  Jenna is also thrown into the 9-to-5 world, being leaned upon by her flamboyantly gay boss (Andy Serkis, a.k.a. Gollum from The Lord of the Rings movies) to save the magazine from an upstart rival that seems to have a spy in the fold and is scooping their every idea.  The magazine politics stuff is the weak link in the film.  Particularly little girl Jenna’s big idea to save the fashion mag from extinction seems kind of silly.  However, it isn’t a fatal flaw. 

Much more entertaining is Jenna’s attempt to function in the adult world.  Her reactions to things like seeing guys naked and having boobs and drinking alcohol and her home and life in the big city are all priceless.  She brings her 1987 mentality to modern Manhattan and uses her childhood favorites to bring a dorky chic and feeling of goodwill to the haute couture events she is at.  For example, she saves a dying party by insisting that the DJ stop playing that gloomy techno and instead play Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”  She stands alone in the middle of the dance floor and totally un-self-consciously relives the monster dance moves from the video to that song.  At first the crowd watches with bemused detachment, but Jenna is so out there in the moment, so completely unafraid to be uncool, that the fashionistas can’t help but join in.  (I guess it should be pointed out that most of the music Jenna listens to in the soundtrack was mostly already three or four years old by 1987.  In fact, of all the retro songs used in the film, only Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” would have been current when Jenna went through her metamorphosis.)

Completely confused by how she came to be the controlling harridan that she seems to have grown into, she goes to find her old best friend and confidant Matt, who has grown up into a cute free-lance photographer (Mark Ruffalo).  It turns out that her thirteenth birthday party was the last time they spoke.  Soon after she became part of the in-crowd and broke his heart by never acknowledging him again.  Little girl Jenna can’t understand how she let that happen, and as they spend more and more time together she realizes that she had taken the wrong path in life.  He was her destiny.  Complicating things just a bit is the fact that he is about to get married.

Jennifer Garner is a revelation as Jenna.  I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of her series Alias.   The grim determination of her character in that show… and other roles like Daredevil’s humorless Elektra and Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s neurotic roommate in the short-lived TV series Time of Your Life… all made it hard to picture her in a light romantic comedy.  Her rare previous supporting comic work in films like Dude Where’s My Car? and Mr. Magoo also did not raise hope that she could pull this off.  Well, Garner is simply amazing in the way she throws herself into the role.  She allows herself a gentle sense of wonder and wears a constant goofy smile that an actress trying to be “cool” may not dare try.  This role is a coming-out party for Garner, an announcement to the skeptics (like me) that she will become a huge star.  She has made me a believer.

Ruffalo is also surprisingly good.  The only thing I can remember seeing him in previously was playing the slimy detective in Meg Ryan’s In the Cut, but here he does a deft balancing act.  His character of Matt is obviously grudgingly falling again for Jenna, and yet you can see him keeping her at arms length because he does remember what it was like to be that 13-year-old fat kid who was destroyed by the woman once before.

13 Going On 30 is far from a perfect movie.  What it is, though, is damned likable.  I am willing to overlook the little faults on the strength of a charming premise that is wittily worked out and a star-making performance.   (4/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004.   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved. Posted: April 24, 2004.

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Copyright ©2004.   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.
Posted: April 24, 2004.

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