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13 GOING ON 30

By Pete Vonder Haar | April 25, 2004

I’ll admit it: I hate romantic comedies. Okay, not all romantic comedies, just the ones that rigidly adhere to the expected formula of man and woman separated by circumstance who end up finding true love in each other’s arms anyway, usually to the strains of whatever ballad is topping the charts that month. In other words, the vast majority of them. I wanted to get my biases out of the way right off the bat, and then go on to tell you that I didn’t hate “13 Going On 30.” Is it flawed? Sure. Is it derivative? To some extent, but not as much as others would have you believe. Does it have its moments? A few, but those alone put it head and shoulders above similar offerings featuring, say, Julia Roberts.
“13 Going On 30” opens in 1987, where Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) – a flat-chested, braces-wearing, somewhat unpopular young lady – longs to leapfrog her awkward early teen years and blossom into adult womanhood, complete with fabulous career and ample bosom. In short, she wants to be 30. After a disastrous 13th birthday party where she lashes out at her socially inept best friend Matt (Justin Burke), her wish is granted…using magical wishing dust of the type often found in such movies. The next thing she knows, she’s all grown up, with a fabulous Manhattan apartment, a sweet job as a magazine editor, and a naked New York Ranger in her shower. Mission accomplished.
Or is it? Ah, you know better than that. Jenna manages to adapt to her new, hip urban lifestyle (after some initial freaking out), but soon discovers that her grown-up self isn’t someone she’s particularly fond of being, if you follow me. The adult Jenna is, among other things, a conniving back-stabber who steals her co-workers’ ideas, then gets them fired. And while she’s become friend and peer to the most popular girl from high school, she’s also estranged from Matt (Mark Ruffalo), now a hunky photographer living in the Village. Can Jenna possibly atone for her past misdeeds while at the same time convincing Matt she’s for real before his imminent wedding to Chicago weather girl Wendy?
Oh, please. Everyone is going to compare this movie to “Big,” or “Like Father Like Son,” or that one with George Burns: “I Just Swapped Bodies With an 18-Year Old and Now I’m Getting More A*s Than a Rental Car,” but it’s not entirely accurate. For one thing, “13 Going On 30” is about fast-forward, not transformation. And unlike its more direct antecedents, the film’s protagonist doesn’t express an instant desire for things to return to normal. What bothered me was how Garner’s character never seemed to make the connection that maybe being such a horrible person is what got her the good life to begin with. She learns of her wicked, wicked ways and immediately sets about righting them. Hey, if it ain’t broke…
There are the makings of a decent movie here, and Garner – while initially awkward – plays the fish out of water well, though she seems more comfortable in scenes where she’s dishing with her teenage neighbor and her friends. Ruffalo is nice and flinchy, though he’s strangely accepting of Jenna’s assertion that she has no memory of the previous 17 years. “13 Going On 30” avoids some of the more obnoxious minefields of the genre and has a few decent laughs. I also give director Gary Winick credit for nicely sidestepping the potentially creepy aspect of grown men interacting romantically with a woman possessing the mentality of a 13-year old. Unfortunately, initial promise eventually gives way to the cliché ending, like we were all pretty sure it would.
Still, nothing showed me how far afield of the target demographic for this movie I am than Jenna’s reaction to finding herself a 13 year-old in a 30 year-old’s body. Speaking for myself, my first stop would’ve been the liquor store, then the tobacco shop, and then…well, I’ve said too much. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have gone shopping for shoes.
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