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Movie Review: 13 Going On 30

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In 1988, a rising star named Tom Hanks was featured in a film titled Big, about a young boy who makes a wish at a carnival wishing machine to be “big.” Overnight, his wish is granted, and while scared and uncomfortable at first, he adjusts to his surroundings and manages to capture the hearts of those around him with his charm and sense of hope. 13 Going on 30 has been labeled the female version of Big, and rightfully so; its plot is similar, but yet its story is crafted in such an enjoyably original and feminine way. Though 13 Going On 30 doesn’t attain equivalence to its male counterpart, it still presents an honest effort of a film that comes off as nothing but bright-spirited, fun, and heartwarming.

The year is 1987 and Jenna Rink (Christina B. Allen) is just like every other thirteen-year-old girl—in the struggle to gain not only popularity, but also the stares of her school’s dreamy blonde boys. Jenna is unhappy with the way she looks, and wishes that she could be just as pretty and perfect-looking as the much-older models in her favorite magazine, Poise. She aspires to become a member of the “Six Chicks” (a snobby yet fashionable group of girls), even though her attachment to this clique would require a name change—making the six a seven, thus killing the trendy rhyme.

In an effort to gain acceptance into the six chick circle, she throws a party in her basement and makes her supposed best friend Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.) look stupid in front of all of the giggling girls. But, despite Jenna’s efforts, these bratty girls are backstabbers; Tom-Tom (Alexandra Kyle), the leading lady of the “Six Chicks,” uses Jenna to write her school report, steals her party food, and then leaves her party – with the other five following – to find something better to do. Jenna is left in the dark thinking that the reason for their leaving was all Matt’s fault. Frustrated with Matt and herself, Jenna wishes with all her might (and a little wishing dust too) to be “thirty, flirty, and thriving.”

A much more mature Jenna (Jennifer Garner) wakes up in the year 2004, in her own apartment, with a sexy body, and a naked man in her shower. Being the same thirteen-year-old trapped in her new thirty-year-old body, she must now adapt to her living environment, the people around her, and her job. Now an admired editor for Poise magazine with a hunk-of-a-hockey-player boyfriend named Alex (who happened to be the naked man she saw in her shower), Jenna feels smart, successful, and sexy—everything she wanted. However, once Jenna discovers that she works with the potentially conniving Tom-Tom, who currently goes by Judy (Judy Greer), and once she determines that Alex is a dumb jock and realizes that she is no longer friends with Matt (Mark Ruffalo), she must get things straight. Jenna must quickly overcome all of her obstacles with work, win back the man she really cares about, and reorient her life in a more friendly and devoted direction to make up for the mistakes she once made.

For the literal mind, one thing that makes this type of film hard to buy into initially is the incredulity of the fairy tale-like powers of a wish. The mere idea of a simple wish transforming someone into a different body is preposterous, but more illogical ideas have been committed to celluloid and have worked equally in their own way. Even though a ludicrous body-switching wish turned into a reality (either by means of dust or a Zoltar machine) is easy to dismiss, 13 Going On 30 permits you to sit back, disconnect your cords of logic, be silly, and just smile for a good hour-and-a-half. Also, what makes this film hard to swallow is its aspects of time transportation; unlike Big, where Josh just goes through an extreme overnight growth spurt (as if that is believable), Jenna fast-forwards through time which (as always) unavoidably puts an endless world of paradoxes on display. Regardless, what makes this picture palatable, just like Big and Liar, Liar (another stretch of a wish-based feature—only with birthday candles), is the fact that it’s cute, charming, and has the capability of bringing out the fun-loving kid in all of us.

Without a doubt, the dominant driving force of this film is Jennifer Garner’s acting. With her first headlining feature, the star of ABC’s “Alias,” has surely set herself on the train towards super-stardom. Her light and fluffy role as a teenager inside a woman’s body comes across as natural, and it is one heck of an adaptation from her role in Daredevil. Any future movie project that has her name on it will definitely do well at the box-office. As for Andy Serkis, his first human screen performance after playing the creature Gollum for almost six years, works out nicely—promising him a brighter future as well. To add, director Gary Winick creates a favorable follow-up to his last feature, Tadpole, and also manages to sneak a hint of homage to Lynch with a Blue Velvet poster in the background.

Another one of 13 Going On 30’s main strengths is the soundtrack. This film cleverly uses songs from the ‘80’s mixed with songs from the present to match the film’s transcending feel. Some tracks include a perfectly-fitting Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” a commonly-used Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl,” and a poetic Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.” The pop song selections nicely go hand-in-hand with the sugary cotton candy sensations that the overall film emits.

13 Going On 30 (a title inspired by the song “Sixteen going on Seventeen” from The Sound of Music) is not just a “chick flick” for girlie sleepovers with polka-dotted pink pajamas, pillow fights, and lots of bubble-gum gossip. It is a warm and genuine story about the importance of laughing, having fun, and loving one another that is suitable for either males or females of any age—between thirteen and thirty and beyond. All-in-all, just like the film’s luscious lead, 13 Going On 30 has got it going on. (*** out of ****)

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About Brandon Valentine

  • 16-17

    huh i want to see that movie

  • david r. mark

    Big was the best film in the genre, but 13 Going On 30 is a worthy runner-up.

    I’m not a big Jennifer Garner fan and i don’t care for Alias, but I thought her performance in 13-30 worked for the same reason Tom Hanks’ worked in Big (and Judge Reinhold in Vice Versa): she was able to play like a kid in a grown-up’s body. As a viewer, I was able to suspend reality and accept the plotline, because of her.

    Mark Ruffalo, a superior actor in several films, is excellent as Garner’s would-be first love. And there are several good secondary players to boot.

    Overall, it’s a fluff movie, but well worth watching. There’s no harm in good bubble gum entertainment.

    BTW, the movie also has a great 80s soundtrack, with the Go Gos, Talking Heads, Pat Benatar and others. My wife and I actually bought it.