13 Going on 30
Directed by Gary Winick. Starring Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves. (2004, PG-13, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., April 23, 2004
"I want to be 30," whispers little underdeveloped Jenna Rink in her New Jersey basement on her 13th birthday in 1987. A sprinkling of magic wishing dust hurtles her forward through time, and Shazam! she’s Jennifer Garner, with a closet full of strappy sandals, a high-powered magazine job, and a tooly hockey-player boyfriend. Allow me to grumble, briefly, that she does not receive a mortgage note, stretch marks, and adult acne. Neither does she have the Right Guy (Ruffalo), who’s grown from a tubby dorkwad to an adorably rumpled art photographer in the Village. And it turns out that she’s gotten where she is today through corporate espionage, ruthless backstabbing, and hucklebuckling her co-workers’ husbands. Why, she’s no better than the evil Lucy (Greer), but for a better nose job! But like those other folks in those body-switching, time-traveling movies of yore (Big springs to mind most readily), she discovers that her juvenile self is actually quite well suited to her profession of choice, and she’s poised for a lesson about keepin’ it real or some such. Garner shoulders her breakout film role admirably enough; maybe it’s the voice or maybe it’s the dimples, but her breezy Charlie Girl aplomb makes her compulsively watchable, even when the poor dear has to get up and do that Thriller dance in front of a swank club of jaded partygoers. She eats fruit leather off her fingers with glee and keeps her business correspondence in Diva Starz folders and is otherwise believably teenaged. There’s a nice moment as her relationship with Ruffalo is reheating in which she leans in to him and marvels, "Hey, you got arm hair!" (Quite a bit of it, actually.) Yet the script, like magic wishing dust, hurtles her from scene to scene with such wacky momentum that she doesn’t really seem to have a chance to settle in and act. The film lacks the emotional resonance that made Big such a sentimental favorite with audiences of all ages. Teenaged femininity is painful business, but the movie steps too cautiously, peppering its first act with goofy 1980s nostalgia instead of letting the horrors of adolescence sink in. It’s quite a contrast from director Winick’s previous film, Tadpole, a digitally shot dramedy about a teen’s sexual coming-of-age with an older woman. Winick is one of the founders of InDigEnt Films, the digital production company whose titles include Richard Linklater’s Tape, Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April, and Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity, and this move into the Hollywood mainstream represents a notable shift for Winick. The shiny, happy tone caters to tweens – and that’s fine – but it makes the film less nuanced, far less memorable than it could have been. Ruffalo is an offbeat choice for a male romantic lead, with his young-Brando looks and slightly gruff mien, but he gives the movie a little edge it wouldn’t have otherwise. I feel compelled to mention, however, that the cheesy resolution drew titters from the audience, and that the film leans too hard on the notion of happily ever after with a guy. This is Girl Power Lite, from the shopping montage to the Lillix cover of "What I Like About You." Also of note: Serkis – Garner’s boss – is still creepy when barbered and walking upright.