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13 Going on 30

Reviewed By Laura Kyle
Posted 06/03/04 05:18:06

"Give in to the mainstream diagnosis, give up your clever mocking abilities."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

13 GOING ON 30, like its main character, grew from superficial and trite to earnest and endearing.

Thirteen-year-old Jenna Rink (Christa Allen) is an awkward angst-ridden outsider and her longing to become one of the cool kids overrides loyalties to dorky pal Matt Flamhaff (Sean Marquette). Compared to life as a 30-year-old, life as a 13-year-old kid sucks (so much for Toys R Us and Peter Pan). When enchanted dust fast forwards Jenna out of miserable adolescence, fulfilling her wish to be "thirty, flirty, and thriving," Jenna discovers she is now a spirited and beautiful magazine editor in the twenty first century, or more specifically: Jennifer Garner, and is colleague and friend to former junior high tormenter, Lucy (played very well by the skilled Judy Greer). But Matt is no where in sight and Jenna gradually learns that she hasn't just turned thirty but has also turned into the same girl who bullied her seventeen years earlier, or more specifically: a [insert curse word here].

As a female, by default, I drool over movies like this; I am not going to lie. I am the target audience. However, I believe 13 Going on Thirty asserts itself as a worthy contender for the chick flick hall of fame.

While Garner is a bit hard to stomach in the film's exposition as a thirteen-year-old trapped in the body of a thirty-year-old (she isn't nearly as impressive as Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday and is not a Big presence like Tom Hanks), she matures with her character, managing to give a sincere portrayal as a little girl trying on Mom's high-heeled shoes, and in the process, learning what life is all about. Considering this is Garner's first big screen leading role, she is entitled to a bit of mercy. If anything, she simply tried too hard. Ruffalo is expectedly charming and heartbreaking as Jenna's childhood buddy, Matt, all grown up. However, playing a character in a picture such as this is an unexpected, though very much welcomed, career move. He combines the charismatic and vulnerable qualities of his breakthrough performance as Terry in Kenneth Lonergan's unforgettable You Can Count on Me with a new dose of regular guy modesty for 13 Going on Thirty. He is an incredibly natural and generous actor and that is a good thing for star Garner. I don't think it is too bold to say that Ruffalo is an essential reason 13 Going on Thirty is so easy to fall for. Another notable highlight is Lord of the Ring's Smeagol/Gollum (whichever title you prefer), Andy Serkis, as Jenna's boss.

The cues to laugh usually work and it is impossible not to feel all giddy when 2004 Jenna leads everyone in a dance to Michael Jackson's classic 1983 hit "Thriller." And if I said I didn't get choked up in the film's climax, I would once again, be lying. Somehow, with Garner's passion and Ruffalo's appeal, the good-hearted effort of director Gary Winick is hard to criticize excessively. Admittedly, There are some curious and frustrating elements. Matt never truly questions Jenna's claims of being magically jetted into the future. Jenna is way too well adjusted to the life of a thirty-year-old to be even remotely believable. Tack on the fact that there is no original script or filmmaking at play here, it would be understandable for a critic to rip the film apart. But as you are whisked off into this utterly engaging and delightful tale, however predictable it may be, these flaws are easily forgiven. Still, while I would like to think that the honest theme of redemption found in childhood innocence, rather than Garner's pretty face accompanied by an entertaining and formulated yarn, is what really grabs the movie-goer, I think that probably is too bold to say.

13 GOING ON 30 is not surprisingly Winick's first Hollywood blockbuster and there are enough plot holes in the movie that you could probably grade cheese with it. But I recommend the picture for anyone looking for a refreshing and sizeable portion of amusing and touching cinema with sentimentality that is hard to mock. Not to mention, the fashion allusions to the 80's mixed with a modern touch are a visual spectacle in their own right and the soundtrack is certainly crowd-pleasing.

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