The success of the 1988 comedy Big launched Tom Hanks’ rise to be one of today’s hottest actors, and the fact many critics have chosen this film as their point of comparison for 13 Going On 30 rather than the similarly-themed but far inferior 18 Again and Vice Versa is a great compliment. Last year’s Freaky Friday remake demonstrated that even the most contrived and formulaic plots can still be entertaining when infused with life by a talented cast and crew.
Christa B. Allen plays 13-year-old Jenna Rink, who, after an unfortunate birthday party, fervently wishes to be “thirty, flirty, & thriving.” After being sprinkled with wishing dust, Jenna awakes to find that not only is she 30, she’s Jennifer Garner.
Whether sparing with Ben Affleck in Daredevil or taking our multiple baddies as spy Sydney Bristow, Garner has shown she can hold her own as an action star. With 13 Going On 30, she’s been given the chance to top-line a romantic comedy in a role that is the polar opposite of those for which fans have come to know and love her.
Many other actresses might have overplayed the suddenly adult Jenna, but Garner shines every bit as much as Hanks did in Big. As alternately goofy and serious as a 13-year-old can be, she’s great fun to watch as she navigates a world in which she’s lost 17 years. Her chemistry with love interest Mark Ruffalo is limited, but he and the other supporting characters really serve just as props for Garner to interact with. The one stand-out is Andy Serkis as Jenna’s boss Richard. In a dramatic departure from his amazing performance in Lord of the Rings, Serkis proves he can do more than crawl on the ground and hiss menacingly. Arrested Development‘s Judy Greer also does decent work as Lucy, the requisite “villain” and rival.
With Garner and the rest of the cast clearly enjoying themselves, sequences that seem from the trailer as if they may be unbearable to watch (“Thriller,” anyone?) are actually laugh-out-loud funny. The comedy is spot-on, particularly when focused nostalgically back on the young Jenna’s 1980s pop culture and fashion sensibilities. The target audience may be teenage girls, but their parents will find plenty to enjoy as well.
While the plot is both wafer-thin and predictable, this is not the sort of movie that relies on suspense or drama to succeed. The saccharine ending may make many film critics gag, but it doesn’t change the fact that 13 Going On 30 is unquestionably good, silly fun.