13 Going on 30

Robin Clifford 
13 Going on 30
Laura Clifford 

Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) is a typical kid on the brink of her 13th birthday. When she is rejected by the cool clique at school she desperately wishes to be “thirty, flirty and thriving.” But, the old saying, “be careful what you wish for,” holds true when Jenna (Jennifer Garner) wakes up the next morning to find that she is “13 Going on 30.”

It has been over 15 years since Tom Hanks wowed the movie going public with his portrayal of a boy living in a man’s body in “Big.” Hanks, under the firm directing hand of Penny Marshall, did a wonderful job in creating the illusion of the child-man, helped by the rich production and strong and talented supporting cast. It was a tour de force film that catapulted its young star into the stratosphere of hot prospects.

Unfortunately, “13 Going on 30” is no “Big” thing, despite a charming, likable performance from Jennifer Garner as the grown up Jenna. The reason for this lack lay in the lazy script by the writing team of Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, who scribed Mel Gibson’s “What a Woman Wants.” In their latest effort they walk out the old fashioned “I wish I was <fill in the blank>” with young Jenna reaching her 13th birthday with the hope of joining the Sixth Chick clique, led by Lucy “Tom-Tom” Wyman (Alexandra Kyle). More than anything, Jenna wants to be one of the cool kids and invites Lucy, her posse and hunky Chris Grandy (Alex Black) to her 13th birthday party. But, when they pull a prank on her, she finds herself alone and her “friends” gone.

The only one to stay behind is Jenna’s best friend and next-door neighbor, Matt (Sean Marquette), a good kid, if a bit geeky, and the school photographer. For her special day Matt made her “Jenna’s Dreamhouse” and, sprinkled with magic dust, will make her wishes come true. When the Sixth Chicks snub Jenna, she takes her anger out on Matt, but not before the magical dust falls upon her. Jenna unhappily falls asleep that night praying to be grown up.

The “next” morning, Jenna, all grown up, awakens to find herself in a fancy Manhattan apartment. But, she also discovers that there is a man in the flat and he doesn’t have on much in the way of clothes! She hurriedly vacates the premise and runs into Lucy (Judy Greer), also grown up and, it seems, her partner as editors at the prestigious fashion magazine, Poise. When they arrive at the office, they are immediately accosted by their boss, Richard (Andy Sirkis), over serious circulation woes caused by the rival mag, Sparkle, which has been regularly scooping them. Jenna is, initially, a fish out of water, not remembering anything about the years since her 13th birthday.

Jenna embraces the fame and fortune of her prestigious position, but there are unexpected cracks in the foundation. She may have gotten her wish to be “thirty, flirty, etc.” but she is shocked to find out that she has also been a conniving, cruel and manipulative woman who was not beyond deceiving others to get what she wanted. Stunned by this revelation and needing some anchor from her distant past, Jenna starts to search for her old friend, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), who is working as a photographer in the Village.

Matt is less than happy when Jenna turns up on his doorstep. Unknown to her, in her present state, Jenna did become the Sixth Chick, went on to be crowned prom queen and set off on her ambitious career without so much as a look back at her past. All she wants is to get back her old friend but even this is not possible when Jenna learns that Matt has a fiancée, Wendy (Lynn Collins). But, Jenna’s primary mission is to Poise and she hires Matt to photograph her ideas that might just save the day. Her unremembered adult past comes back to bite her, though, and Lucy takes her ideas to the rival magazine.

What does all this have to do with a girl who is 13 going on 30? Not too much, we find out, as helmer Gary Winick (“Tadpole”) seems to forget that his star is supposed to be a 13-year old teenage girl. Sure, there is a trace of the juvenile mentality in Jenna but mostly she is simply thrilled to have it all until this is tempered by reality. Jennifer Garner does infuse her Jenna with the youthful energy wasted on the young as she happily claps when she discovers her closet full of cool clothes and, more important, lots and lots of shoes. Garner gives an enthusiastic performance as Jenna experiences such things a riding in a limo being the center of attention at a cocktail party held by her boss. Too bad the material is beyond Garner’s ability to save it.

The supporting cast is both sparse and weak. Mark Ruffalo goes through the motions, usually with a pained expression, as the old friend and obvious new love interest. Judy Greer does nothing to flesh out the bitchy role of Lucy, making it clear that with a friend like her, who needs enemies. Only Andy Serkis, of the adult players, gets to have any real fun and puts an amusing spin on his editor-in-chief character, Richard. The only other ones who get to shine are the kids playing young Jenna and Matt (Christa B. Allen and Sean Marquette). These two really come across as best friends and, thanks to the eye of the casting directors (Ellen Lewis and Terri Taylor), are a good match to their older counterparts.

The filmmakers go through the motions of creating this teen fantasy world but do little to infuse real life into the proceeds. Garner’s costumes, by Susie DeSanto, are colorful, kicky and along the lines of what would appeal to a teen. The rest of the techs are adequate but not notable. Good use is made of a number of 80’s tunes – Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” gets used a couple of times; “Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads counterpoints Madonna’s “Crazy for You”; Rick Springfield makes a comeback (which he probably didn’t expect) as Jenna’s fave pop star, singing “Jessie’s Girl.”

All I can say is “Thank you Jennifer Garner. You made a thoroughly mediocre movie a bit better than it has any right to be.” I give “13 Going on 30” a C-.

Young Jenna Rink (Shana Dowdeswell, who could also stand in easily for Hilary Swank) yearns to be one of the popular SixChicks and bribes them into coming to her thirteenth birthday party. When the snooty clique pulls a mean trick, Jenna turns on her best friend Matty (Jack Salvatore Jr., "Donnie Darko"), retreats to the closet and makes a wish that comes true.  The next morning she's "13 Going on 30."

This woefully lightweight story was hatched by the creators of "What Women Want," Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, who also wrote the screenplay with director Gary Winick's "Tadpole" screenwriter Niels Mueller.  This is the type of film that can catapult a character seventeen years into the future and, with the exception of a cell phone, make no mention whatsoever of historical or technological changes.  Winick's exuberant direction and Jennifer Garner's infectious performance ably supported by Andy Serkis, Dowdeswell and Salvatore Jr. almost obscure just how trite and inconsequential this movie is.

Jenna (Jennifer Garner, "Daredevil") is stunned to discover herself in an apartment with a naked man who calls her sweetie bottom, a closet full of high fashion and a job as editor of her favorite magazine, "Poise."  She's stymied trying to figure out what's going on when her parents' phone is answered with a 'we're away on a cruise' recording (???), so she directs her secretary (Marcia DeBonis, "Tadpole"), to track down Matt (Mark Ruffalo, "In the Cut").  Conveniently, he's living in the Village so Jenna hightails it to his apartment after work.  Turns out he hasn't seen her in years.

Jenna's discovery is somewhat like Nicholas Cage's "The Family Man" in reverse - her new life is built on backstabbing and treachery and in order to become the nice girl she really is, she must undo her childhood mistake.  In the interim, she falls in love with Matt (there's an obstacle, 'natch - he's engaged) and is pitted against her best friend Lucy (Judy Greer, "The Hebrew Hammer," "Adaptation"), the former SixChicker, in a race to redesign "Poise" before it is made redundant by rival "Sparkle."

In this artificial world, everyone knows the moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video and a week's worth of photo shoots can comprise a magazine (Look Ma!  No words!).  Yet for all its flimsiness, "13 Going on 30" has the ability to charm.  As the young Jenna exults in the big hair version of the 80's (her favorite song is Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl"), overweight Matty shows his potential by spazzing out to Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House."  Jenna's thirty year old makes a play for an adolescent boy and befriends a girl in her apartment building for giggly girl talk and pajama parties.  Her retreat to mom (Kathy Baker, "Cold Mountain") and dad's (Phil Reeves, "Moonlight Mile") to lick her wounds is the type of psychological fetal position made desirable by stress, especially when mom still serves happy face pancakes.

Jennifer Garner more than proves her worth as an actress, not only giving this sub-par vehicle her all, but raising it up several notches.  She's a great physical comedienne and her innocent cluelessness is thoroughly lovable.  In one great visual, Garner, smeared in green facial masque, slurps in a bright orange cheese doodle like a strand of spaghetti.  Ruffalo provides warmth but his characterization of Matt is too stand-offish, as if he's watching everything from the sidelines.  Winick does a great job with the kids, who are not only terrific, but exceptionally well cast.  The pudgy Salvatore Jr. could easily slim down into the adult Ruffalo and Alexandra Kyle ("Eye for an Eye") as lead SixChick Tom-Tom is the spitting image of Greer.  Also outstanding is Andy Serkis ("The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"), out from under the imagery of Gollum to play Jenna's boss like a cross between Mr. Bean and Tim Curry.

The film looks sharp and bright, although Susie DeSanto's ("White Oleander") costuming for Jenna at thirty goes from cutting edge to prim pastels, apparently meaning that only cutthroat executives can be fashionable.  The soundtrack is a boon to mainstream 80's nostalgia, featuring such songs as Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield" and Madonna's "Crazy for You."

"13 Going on 30" has no right to be called good, but it is surprising how intermittently entertaining it can be.


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