A film review by Craig J. Koban

 

13 GOING ON 30  jj
˝ 

2004, PG-13, 97 mins.

Jenna Rink: Jennifer Garner / Matt Flamhaff: Mark Ruffalo /
Lucy Wyman: Judy Greer / Young Jenna: Christa B. Allen / Young Matt: Sean Marquette

Directed by Gary Winick / Written by Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith

 

I am amazed and stupefied that 13 GOING ON 30 is not just called BIG 2.  Even its stars in publicity interviews refer to it as a “female BIG.”  To be sure, the film is  about a young thirteen year old girl who wishes that she was a vibrant, successful, popular, and, most importantly, attractive and sexy thirty year old.  The 1988 film BIG is uncannily the same.  Just consider the other superficial similarities:         

    

-     BIG has a young adolescent boy that is ostracized by his peers and has a crush on an unattainable girl.  13 GOING ON 30 is about an adolescent girl that is unpopular and is also ostracized by her peers.  She too has a crush on a member of the opposite sex.   

 

-     BIG has the boy make a secret wish on a mysterious machine to become older.   He wakes up one morning to find himself to be a 30 year old man.  In 13 GOING ON 30, the girl is hit with magical wish dust and wakes up one morning to discover that she is a thirty-year old woman.   

 

-          BIG involves the boy trying to fit into his surroundings, still having the mentality of his adolescent self.  Ditto for 13 GOING ON 30. 

-          BIG has the character work for a successful big corporate toy company and becomes a huge hit with the boss.  13 GOING ON 30 has its character work for a big corporate magazine firm and also wins over the boss. 

-          BIG has the character go to a corporate party in a limo, something the boy gleefully does, as he has never been in a one. He eats strange food he has never been exposed to at said party.  Ditto for 13 GOING ON 30. 

-          BIG has the character, whose childish antics bring out the respect in others.  Ditto for 13 GOING ON 30. 

…and so on and so on. 

It’s a shame that the film is so derivative, because that’s what dampens it down from being a real, unique winner.  The film is admirable as being a very light, tender, cute romantic comedy with good performances and several scenes of wit and warm-hearted humor.  It just could have been more. 

The always dependable and irrepressibly cute Jennifer Garner (from TV’s most underrated gem ALIAS) stars as Jenna Rink, the adult version of her  adolescent fantasy self. She wakes up one day in a trendy and expensive Manhattan apartment after she wishes she were thirty after an altercation at her 13th Birthday party.  It is here where we have the semi-obligatorical scenes where she looks in the mirror, is shocked by what she sees, and stares at herself and realizes, hey, I am a hot babe in her thirties.  I got my wish…now what? 

She eventually makes it out of her apartment and away from her boyfriend; whose naked body makes for a seriously awkward moment, especially for a woman with the mind of a 13 year old whom has never seen a naked man.  Garner has a nice, natural sense of comic timing with these scenes, and is especially funny in trying to discover the world around her.  The one thing that does separate this film from BIG is that she time travels years into the future and becomes a 30 year old and, thus, has no memories of the last 17 years.  When her cell phone goes off in her pocket, she screams into the air, “Where is that music coming from, oh Gawd!”  She is so out of touch with her time that when she gets to work (as a well established editor of a swanky fashion magazine) and her secretary tells her that EMINEM is on the phone and wants a "decision," she responds, “Peanut…no…chocolate!” 

Jenna’s youthful enthusiasm wins over a lot of her co-workers, especially her boss, played in a very funny supporting performance by Andy Serkis (who provided the voice of Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS films).  She is such a hit that when she goes to the company party and is asked to pick things up, she asks the DJ to play “Thriller” (her favourite song) and engages in cute little song and dance number with her co-workers. 

Jenna eventually comes to meet up with an old teenage friend named Matt, played by Mark Ruffalo.  They have not seen each other for 17 years, and Matt had a huge crush on Jenna at the time.  Funny, Ruffalo seems a bit too welcoming towards a women he has not seen in years and who claims to be a 13 year old trapped in a thirty year old body.  A normal human reaction would have been to either kick her out of the apartment or call the cops, but Ruffalo’s character is one of those squeaky clean men that only appear in such formulas to accommodate for the main character’s need to fall in love with someone.  Will they rekindle their teenage romance?  Will they fall back in love and live happily ever after? 

Is this film a female BIG? 

The plot is fairly pedestrian and formulaic at best and anyone should predict with good certainty where it is headed.  It’s a shame that the film is so predictable and mundane, because it’s populated by very warm and likeable characters that deserve a better screenplay.  Mark Ruffalo underplays his character well and Andy Serkis has some fun with his portrayal of the magazine head editor.  But it is Jennifer Garner, in a truly winning and funny performance,  that makes this film enjoyable and watchable.  She is an actress of huge range and appeal, and she is definitely someone with a huge film career ahead of her.  I really admired her work here.  She does not play up the character for big, broad laughs.  There is a lot of subtlety in her performance and she knows how to use body language and expression to sell her portrayal very effectively.  She is also great and has a good eye for light comedy, especially in a scene in an elevator with a little girl and in an equally funny scene where she tries to pick up a 13-year-old boy in a restaurant.  When her friend tells her she meant for her to go to the adult and pick him up, she deadpans, “Him?  Oh gross!” 

It's really too bad that this film is not something more.  Garner is so likeable, so charming, so luminous and so cute in the role that its almost enough to recommend the film.  Yet, the film is also paint-by-numbers in terms of its plot that it left me very little room for guesswork.  The film has a good heart and is tender, sincere, and innocent in ways that many comedies are not anymore.  Young girls will adore this film and it’s a refreshingly appropriate film for the entire family.  I only hope that, with her obvious appeal and talent, Garner will look for something in the future that will do her abilities justice.

 

 

 

 

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