13 Going on 30
directed by Gary Winick
(Columbia, 2004)

Big is remade with a gender switch and a few unusual twists in 2004's 13 Going on 30.

The plot, set initially in 1987, is simple: 13-year-old Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) tosses aside her pudgy, loyal chum Matt (Sean Marquette) to become part of the "in" crowd of her school. Desperately wishing to skip over those awkward teen and 20-something years (and happening to be sitting under a lucky scattering of magic dust), she wakes in 2004 -- 30 years old, but still having a 13-year-old's memories and mentality.

Imagine her surprise that she now has Jennifer Garner's body and is wearing Jennifer Garner's lingerie. Oh, and there's a naked athlete in her shower. By a fortunate quirk of timing, she flees into the street and into a waiting limo, which whisks her to a high-paying editor's post at a glossy women's magazine.

The similarities to 1988's Big, in which 12-year-old Josh (David Moscow) becomes a child-minded, adult-bodied Tom Hanks and lands a plum job at a giant toy company, are obvious. But where Big was refreshingly charming, 13 Going on 30 feels stale and forced despite a strong effort by Garner to inject her character with youthful energy and naivete.

There are problems. Immediately obvious to anyone who lived through the 1980s is the slight time shift; although set in 1987, most of the pop-culture references and music are from five years before. A delay in production, perhaps, without benefit of a script rewrite? We'll never know.

More importantly, while she might be living in Garner's adult body, it's slightly worrisome that the 13-year-old girl inside develops an adult love (not just a teen crush, mind you) on slimmer, cooler, 30-year-old Matt (Mark Ruffalo). (While Big's Josh also had his tryst with an unsuspecting older woman, his infatuation never broadened into anything more than typical teen curiosity and basic adolescent urges.)

On top of it all, we're expected to believe that Jenna not only manages to fool her friends and co-workers into believing she still has a 30-year-old's intelligence and experience, but she also is able to redesign the entire magazine (as a glittery yearbook, no less) with only a "Dummies" book on magazine publishing as her guide.

And does everyone who lived through the '80s really remember all the moves to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video? Ye gods, I hope not.

13 Going on 30 may appeal to your average 13-year-old girl (although she might wonder why the heck Jenna wishes she were 30, for gosh sakes, which is ancient by teen standards). For us retro fans, the '80s soundtrack is a welcome flashback -- but that's not enough to atone for the overuse of hackneyed plot devices and formula characters. Garner's vitality and Ruffalo's dry, laidback boy-next-door charm make me wish filmmakers had worked a little harder to devise a script that did something different with this particular plot device. As it is, I'll stick with Hanks.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 25 September 2004

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