13 Going on 30 (2004) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual content and brief drug references
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Krista B. Allen, Andy Serkis, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves
Director: Gary Winick

Screenplay: Cathy Yuspa, Josh Goldsmith, Niels Mueller
Review published April 26, 2004

One could easily dismiss 13 Going on 30 as the female version of Big, and while it does have the same basic premise of a kid trapped in their adult body prematurely, the two films are thematically quite different.  In fact, the Jennifer Garner (Daredevil, "Alias") version is not so much about one girl's coming of age so much as a social statement that the idealistic, wholesome, wide-eyed innocence seen through a young girl's eyes is far preferable to the no nonsense, sex-tinged, cutthroat one which many women trying to get ahead in business personify.  The world should be full of fun, adventure, romance, and people who want to be good and care for one another.  It's a message that is delivered well, and quite agreeably so, but while it may be pleasing, it's a shame that the story comes packaged and marketed for mass consumption.

Garner stars as Jenna, a bit of a nerdy girl trying to be popular, who makes a wish on her 13th birthday to be "30 and flirty and thriving".  Lo and behold, it happens, as Jenna wakes up to find herself 17 years in the future, now an editor for Poise, a women's fashion magazine.  However, she finds that her life at 30 isn't quite as wonderful as she would like it to be, as all of her ideals have been tossed out of the window, making her an unscrupulous man-chasing "beyotch".  Trying to live in the adult world soon makes her long for the normalcy of her youth, so she decides to track down her best childhood friend, Matt (Ruffalo, XX/XY), but is displeased to learn that they barely know each other anymore.

The real problem with 13 Going on 30 comes from the exceedingly contrived situations that are so far-fetched, the magical act of a girl time traveling to inhabit her body at the time she is 30 seems one of the more believable of the plot points.  Screenwriters Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith (who penned a similar magical transformation for Mel Gibson in the film What Women Want) along with Niels Mueller (who worked with director Winick on his previous coming-of-age film, Tadpole), ratchet up the cuteness factor to the utmost degree.  For example, take the popular scene where adult Jenna becomes the life of the party by taking center stage on the dance floor performing the moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller".  Then everyone joins in, perfectly choreographed, doing moves that seem farfetched that anyone would remember 20 years later -- including Andy Serkis (known best as Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy), who is a good 10 years older than the others are supposed to be.  Never mind the fact that the Jenna we know would have been far too shy and awkward to throw herself into such an embarrassing spectacle in front of a room of strange adults.  Hey, we need a cute scene, no matter how much we must bend integrity to get it, right?

Garner is likeable enough as Jenna, but somehow not really a natural enough comedienne, so the laughs that should have been there just aren't.  We only get the essence of humor in may scenes, leaving us wondering how funny the film could have been with someone more experienced at comedy.  Hanks almost single-handedly made Big into a terrific movie by perfectly imitating the mannerisms and speech patterns of a young boy, but Garner -- well, she seems more like she is a mentally ill person with occasional bursts of  energy.

13 Going on 30 could have been a pleasantly subversive romantic comedy which commented on the dangers of forcing adult images into the minds and bodies of young girls, but instead of going for the lasting statement, the producers have sugar-coated everything to the point where there is little original flavor left.  The mature message that is the underpinning of the whole film becomes far too obscured by the constant need to be adorable for girls and their moms, and while it will leave many a viewer with a smile at the end, this feeling is about as lasting as a dessert, and will probably leave you feeling as guilty.  For a film about growing up in a hurry, there's a certain irony in witnessing so many profound possibilities taking root but never being allowed to mature.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo