Movie review by Greg Carlson
It is too darn bad that “13 Going on 30” didn’t explore the meatier psychological dimensions of making a leap from gawky teenager to older high-fashion hottie in the blink of an eye. Body switching comedies have run the gamut from graceless (“Like Father, Like Son”) to great (“Big”), but the central tenets of the genre – including the mantra that you should always be happy to just be yourself (yawn) – are worn-out shoe leather. It certainly helps this time that the footwear belongs to frolicsome Jennifer Garner, but the odor emanating from “13 Going on 30” will remind most audience members of smelly gym sneakers.
In 1987, teenager Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) dreams of infiltrating the most popular clique of girls at her school and gaining their friendship and acceptance. Naturally, this will mean compromising her own ethical values (writing homework reports for the snotty crew) and alienating her closest, true-blue pal Matt (Sean Marquette), the boy next door who loves Jenna with the sort of devotion one typically doesn’t see in thirteen-year-olds. When her birthday party blows up in her face during a cruel game of “seven minutes in heaven,” Jenna wishes away her childhood, and with the assistance of some magic dust (don’t ask), finds herself all grown up and inhabiting the bod of lithe Garner.
Most body switch flicks spend generous amounts of time wringing comic mileage out of grown-up actors pretending to be kids (or vice versa, if Judge Reinhold will pardon the pun), but “13 Going on 30” is almost weirdly content to let Garner settle into the clunky machinery of the plot without so much as a trip to FAO Schwarz. Thankfully, director Gary Winick includes at least one amusing set-piece, and the office dance party that goes from deadly dull to deliciously fun (courtesy of the choreography from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video) stands as one of the few moments not devoted to some frightfully lifeless nonsense about redesigning the magazine where the suddenly-grown up Jenna works.
The older version of Matt is played by Mark Ruffalo, whose effortless charm goes a long way to making the movie bearable. Sure, it’s a little weird, and possibly a tad creepy, that Ruffalo’s 30-year-old Matt ends up romantically involved with Jenna – who maintains her 13-year-old persona even though she has grown-up curves. Far too much of “13 Going on 30” relies on the familiar obstacles that get in the way of true love: Matt is engaged to another woman, and the adult version of Lucy (the leader of the popular girls that ruined Jenna’s birthday bash), now Jenna’s pal and co-worker, is quick to sabotage Jenna’s best efforts to become a good person.
Screenwriters should be banned from writing any more movies that include scenes where a character is literally decked out in tux or gown before realizing that he or she is getting hitched to the wrong person or for the wrong reason. Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, the scribes who cribbed anything resembling good stuff from “Big,” are guilty of this and many, many other narrative misdeeds throughout the course of “13 Going on 30.” At least the tunes – which include early to mid-80s classics like “Burning Down the House,” Jessie’s Girl,” “Crazy for You,” and “Love is a Battlefield” – are memorable, even if the film conveniently sidesteps using any major stuff actually released in 1987.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/26/04.