Main cast: Jennifer Garner (Jenna Rink), Mark Ruffalo (Matt Flamhaff), Judy Greer (Lucy Wyman), Andy Serkis (Richard), Kathy Baker (Beverly Rink), and Phil Reeves (Wayne Rink)
Director: Gary Winick
13 Going on 30 is an interesting movie because it combines the efforts of a director more well-known for indie movies of adolescent angst with a derivative script. For nearly two-thirds of the movie, Gary Winick’s sensibilities stay put. But ultimately the movie betrays everything it has put forth by pushing a generic and even nauseating happy ending down my throat.
In the 1980s, thirteen-year old Jenna Rink is hoping to fit in with the cool girls in school, grow some perky breasts, and marry the cool kid Christopher Grandy. Her best friend is her neighbor Matt Flamhaff, a chubby kid who shares her uncool status in life. An embarrassing birthday party fiasco carried out by the petty school girls result in Jenna wishing that she can be thirty, which she feels is the perfect age to be. What do you know, she wakes up the next morning to realize that she’s now thirty-years old, living with a baseball player, and working as an editor in a magazine called Poise. The trouble is, she’s still a thirteen-year old who is now trapped in her thirty-year old body. Can she cope in this present day? The first thing she does is to seek out Matt, her friend, only to realize that Matt now looks like a yummy Mark Ruffalo.
One of my biggest problems with this movie is that Jenna is thirteen. The older Matt Flamhaff, therefore, is falling for a woman who acts like a thirteen-year old girl. Maybe this movie is trying to tell me that everyone is thirteen inside or something, but the ending of the movie contradicts this statement by suggesting instead that a teenage crush is somehow more “right” than a grown-up’s point of view.
In this movie, Jenna realizes that her adult life isn’t so nice after all so in the end she goes back in time and make the correct decisions to make sure that her life will turn out “right”. But by “right”, the movie presents to me a woman who gives up her career in favor of love. But it’s not just her. The adult Matt is a man who has grown up, seen the world, and used his experiences to become a better person. The Matt at the end of the movie also apparently has given up all that for love. So what is this movie trying to tell me? That it’s better to play it safe than to actually grow up and make mistakes?
Some things that this movie does right include a wonderful and poignant portrayal of the younger Jenna and Matt and how the unfortunate joke played on them on Jenna’s birthday party affects Matt deeply, especially as Matt is obviously infatuated with Jenna. Thirteen-year old Jenna’s adolescence angst is realistic and I’m sure I’m not the only person who smile wistfully and even in embarrassment at some of the things Jenna does before saying, “Oh yes, I did that too – how awful!” 13 Going on 30 captures the awkwardness of being thirteen very beautifully as well as realistically. What is not unrealistic, perhaps, is how far the movie goes to sugarcoat any hint of sexuality in the adult Jenna’s life other than a coy scene of Jenna enjoying a mild love scene in a movie on her TV set.
Jennifer Garner does a great job at portraying the adult Jenna, but the script works against her. Some things work well, like Jenna’s fashion sense and teenage make-up styles that ring so true for her being a literal thirteen-year old at heart. Jenna’s lack of familiarity with today’s popular culture references is amusing too, such as when she mistakes Eminem for M&Ms and thinks that Madonna and Michael Jackson are so much cooler than Eminem. But some of the bigger comedic scenes in this movie are badly timed, such as Jenna’s dancing to Thriller in a company function that is more embarrassing than funny. Likewise, the prerequisite “empowered ladies dancing” scene that every chick-flick apparently must have, this time with Jenna dancing with thirteen-year old girls, is quite awkwardly set-up.
Mark Ruffalo doesn’t have much to do than to play the chivalrous nice guy and he succeeds very well in doing so. He can play tortured lovelorn guys, sadistic creeps, and nice sensitive guys with equal ease. Now all he need is a good break-out mainstream movie.
But on the whole, the uneven comedy can still be overlooked if the late third of the movie doesn’t degenerate into straightforward, unthinking chick-lit fluff involving contrived misunderstandings, female catfight, and the insulting need for the heroine to as usual chase after the hero. Why do these movies always have the heroine chasing after the hero? Are the male writers exorcising their rejection blues or something?
13 Going on 30 has an interesting premise but the execution is very uneven and even confused. It doesn’t seem to know what it really wants to say. This and the inconsistent success at effective comedy render the movie to be nothing more than pleasant but forgettable despite its premise.