by Rob Gonsalves
Jennifer Garner, for all I know, may have demonstrated a deft comic touch in her many guises on the popular spy show 'Alias' (haven't seen it, wouldn't know). In movies, she has typically been employed as the hottie-in-residence; her biggest prior role was the athletic assassin Elektra in 'Daredevil.'But in 13 Going on 30, her first starring vehicle, Garner comes into her own as a spirited light comedienne. The story is essentially a distaff Big, with a few alterations, but it's a friendly, giggly movie, closer in tone to Romy and Michele's High School Reunion and the other '80s-flavored comedies of the late '90s. I saw girls leaving the screening who weren't even born yet when "Love Is a Battlefield," one of the film's central nostalgia trips, was big. Made me feel old.
"Garner makes it fun and poppy."
Garner's character, Jenna, feels old, too. In 1987, her teenage self (played by Shana Dowdeswell), in the midst of a hellish thirteenth birthday, wishes she were thirty (she's seen a magazine article declaring that thirtysomethings have more fun). Sprinkled with some magic "wishing dust," Jenna wakes up in 2004, in an adult body, and in the bed she sometimes shares with a hockey player. It's as if Jenna is transported seventeen years into the future, without any knowledge of how she came to be there -- how'd she get to be a magazine editor, for instance? Since Jenna is thirty on the outside and thirteen on the inside, her situation has many levels of disorientation. After some fumbling, though, she deals with it.
Those of us who were actually there will note that the film's '80s soundtrack is a bit out of sync: In 1987, both "Love Is a Battlefield" and Jenna's other big number, Michael Jackson's "Thriller," were so five years ago, and when Jenna's best friend Matt plays a Talking Heads tune and no one recognizes it, you wonder where they've been -- it's "Burning Down the House," man. Still, the scene in which grown-up Jenna livens a dull party by requesting "Thriller," happily leading a bunch of thirtysomethings in the goofily iconic zombie dance, ranks right up there with Cameron Diaz's bubbly white-girl moves to "Baby Got Back" in the first Charlie's Angels. A radiant woman looking like she's having the time of her life makes up for a lot of inconsistencies in both soundtrack and narrative.
Jenna runs into the grown Matt (Mark Ruffalo), now a photographer, and for a while the movie goes a little soft. The script brings up the issue of how Jenna had been behaving up until her teen self claimed her body, and the picture isn't pretty; we also learn that she was cruel to Matt back in '87, and that they haven't spoken in years. Mark Ruffalo knows he's the standard-issue Nonthreatening Male here (he probably agreed to it to avoid being typecast as the Threatening Male after In the Cut), but his Matt comes at the romance sideways, crablike, suspicious of Jenna's motives after all this time but warming to her slowly, and Garner, playing off his reticence, gets to enact teenage yearning quite becomingly.
The scenes at Jenna's magazine office (with a de-Gollumized Andy Serkis in fine harried form as her editor-in-chief) fall just this side of persuasive; I'm not convinced, as the script apparently is, that Jenna's aw-shucks concept for the magazine's redesign would go over so huge with her supervisors, nor that a rival mag would find it hot enough to steal. But 13 Going on 30 isn't about that, anyway; it's about a thirty-year-old bouncing on a bed to Pat Benatar and confiding to a group of thirteen-year-olds about boys, or eating ice cream and happily sharing it with a dog in the park, or going to visit Matt on his wedding day and weeping as she holds the gift he gave her on her thirteenth birthday.Mainly, it's about Jennifer Garner redesigning herself for romantic comedy, for which, I now know, she has a natural affinity.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9268&reviewer=416
originally posted: 01/11/07 07:59:38