Despite a shaky premise stunningly similar to Big, 13 Going on 30 turns into a pleasant surprise that stands on its own while offering parent-friendly advice to young girls and a chance for children of the ’80s to turn back the clock.
With or Without You
PG-13 for Sexual content, brief drug references
In 1987, Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) is a 13-year-old girl totally unhappy with her life. It’s grody to the max and she would just as soon gag herself with a spoon as endure the growing pains of seven grueling teenage years.
Thankfully, she has Matt Flamhaff (Jack Salvatore, Donnie Darko) to count on. He might be a little on the heavy side and a dweeb, but he’s her best friend and a pillar of young wisdom. He’s also way ahead of his time when it comes to pop music.
When a clique of six of school’s most popular girls starts to play up to Jenna, making overtures of friendship driven by needs for homework help, Jenna’s quick to jump on the band wagon. Visions of popularity and cute boys dance in Jenna’s head.
But a dirty trick by the six chicks leaves Jenna in the lurch and Matt as the unwarranted recipient of her wrath. Her social bash having devolved into a pity party for one, Jenna wishes to be 30 and flirty, just like the hip and hot models in her favorite magazine, Poise, a trashy fashion and relationship guide for women. Thanks to Matt’s gift of wishing dust, Jenna gets precisely that.
A Matt for the Ages
Voila. It’s 2004. Jenna’s now a 30-year-old mover-and-shaker at Poise. She lives in a 5th Avenue apartment, is dating a New York Ranger, counts Madonna as a personal friend and hobnobs with the likes of Rudy Giuliani. Best of all, she grows up to look just like Jennifer Garner, the butt-kicking star of TV’s Alias.
In digesting her new life as Jenna Rink, Full-Grown Woman, Jenna’s 13-year-old mind pieces together that she has no real friends, she’s not a nice person, she doesn’t talk to her parents, and she is carrying on an affair with a married man.
Desperate for someone she can relate to, this girl who’s not yet a woman looks up Matt, a bastion of sanity and level-headedness now living in the Village. Naturally, he’s surprised, but not overjoyed, to see her, considering that fateful party at 13 was the end of their friendship. Matt’s grown into a well-adjusted, handsome young man (Mark Ruffalo, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). He’s a professional photographer, a laid-back guy who is, to Jenna’s chagrin, engaged to a woman whose career-driven ambitions require they move to Chicago.
With one foot firmly in the past, Jenna tries to make a leap back to a better future, one in which wholesomeness and integrity reign over backstabbers, negativity, and the crush of Corporate America.
Love is a Battlefield
13 Going on 30 was written by Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, the dynamic duo behind What Women Want. Here they offer up a social and pop cultural satire disguised as a simple romantic comedy and, for the most part, it works well.
However, there are a couple squirm-inducing moments brought on by virtually frame-by-frame remakes of Big moments. For one, there’s a scene in which Jenna pops out of a limo’s sunroof while driving through Times Square and for another, there are a couple finger food jokes at a flashy high-society shindig.
But to write off 13 Going on 30 as simply a girly version of Big is being far too superficial. In this case, Jenna discovers she grows up to be a mover and shaker in Manhattan society, but she doesn’t like the person she became along the way. The element of redemption and getting a “do over” might sound trite, but it’s pulled off with a certain amount of earnestness that’s refreshing.
Garner and Ruffalo do their part to breathe life into material that could have just as easily fallen flat. Garner in particular proves she’s got the right stuff to make it as a leading lady, in the process showing a much lighter side from the action roles in Alias and Daredevil that have rocketed her to stardom.
Ruffalo is downright agreeable and also lending a helping hand is Andy Serkis, the voice behind Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this time on view in flesh and blood as a goatee-sporting magazine editor.
As directed by Gary Winick, whose career up to now has been remarkably unspectacular, directing not-so-well-known films like Tadpole and co-producing films such as Uptown Girls, 13 Going on 30’s goal is to “remember what used to be good” and to advance toward simplicity.
Helping to conjure up those memories of good things is a lively soundtrack with hits from the ’80s by such icons as Billy Joel, Talking Heads, Pat Benatar, and Michael Jackson.
From a certain point of view, 13 Going on 30 has just as much in common with movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol as it does Big. At one point, Jenna seeks refuge in her parents’ house and talks to her mom about making mistakes. Rather than seeing them as something to regret, Mom (Kathy Baker, Cold Mountain) advises the focus should be on how to make things right after the mistakes have been made.
But with so much goodness on tap, it’s inevitable for pockets of sappiness to enter the mix. When Poise magazine’s top competitor turns up the heat, the publisher demands Poise be reinvented in order to regain its readership. Jenna’s pitch for the magazine’s new image is drenched in syrup so thick it could choke Aunt Jemima.
Those moments of aching nostalgia aside, 13 Going on 30 has its heart in the right place. Pulling off the neat trick of ending on the right note without compromising the integrity of the leading characters, 13 Going on 30 offers hope that, indeed, the good guys will win in the end.