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 V.13 No.17 | April 22 - 28, 2004 

Film Review

13 Going on 30

Derivative body swap comedy needs to do a little growing up

Jennifer Garner gets all glammed up for her leading lady debut.
Jennifer Garner gets all glammed up for her leading lady debut.

13 Going on 30

Directed by Gary Winnick

Cast: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo

Body swap comedies were a (thankfully) short-lived trend of the '80s. The success of Tom Hanks in Big led to a string of pale imitations like 18 Again, Vice Versa, 14 Going on 30 and Like Father, Like Son--all of which featured kids suddenly trapped in the bodies of adults. It didn't take long after the teenybopper success of Disney's Freaky Friday remake for Hollywood to jump back on the trend, however.

Television star Jennifer Garner (of “Alias” fame) aims again for big-screen stardom (after the moderately successful Daredevil) in the newly minted body swap comedy 13 Going on 30. Besides stealing its title from the aforementioned Alan Thicke vehicle 14 Going on 30, 13 Going on 30 borrows basically the entire plot of Big with only the slightest of gender changes.

Garner plays awkward teen Jenna Rink, who--after being dissed by a cabal of popular girls on her birthday--wishes that she were an adult. As in Big, some ill-defined magical agency intervenes and grants the kid's wish.

In the blink of an eye, it's 17 years later, and Jenna has fast-forwarded through her awkward adolescent years. As an adult, Jenna lives in trendy Manhattan, works for a shallow fashion magazine, dates a dimwitted hockey hunk and is best friends with one of the annoying cheerleader types who ignored her as a teen. Unable to cope with this sudden transition to adulthood, Jenna hunts down her former next-door neighbor Matt, a chubby nerd who has since grown into a sensitive musician-type (played by Mark Ruffalo).

13 Going on 30's message winds up being pretty ham-handed. This is Hollywood, and if Hollywood has taught us anything, it's that people cannot be simultaniously successful and happy. (See Jersey Girl, The Family Man, et al. for reference.) Naturally, Jenna must choose between living her current “Sex and the City” lifestyle or starting all over again with her nerdy ex-neighbor and living in suburbia.

Tween-aged Britney Spears fans (this film's most obvious target audience) will undoubtedly be quite happy with its soft romance and lightweight comedy. (Having grown up long after Big and its progeny, they're also likely to view it as marginally original.) Still, in the end, the film's moral seems like a troubling one for impressionable youth. Not only must success and happiness be seperate, but girls can't possibly have a good life unless they choose the right man.

Screenwriters Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, who gave us the romantically stunted What Women Want, have crafted a film so inconsequential that it barely remains in memory past the theater lobby. Scenes like the one in which we're expected to believe that an entire room full of fashion industry executives know the exact choreography to Michael Jackson's Thriller video tell us exactly how much suspension of disbelief is required to get laughs here.

Garner seems to have a certain perky charisma, and comes across well as a teen in an adult's body, marveling at the idea of boobs and treating herself like a living Barbie Doll. (The film, thankfully, does a decent job sidestepping the creepy issue of men wanting to bed our technically underage heroine.) Ruffalo, a spectacular dramatic actor, looks generally embarassed here and should take this as a cue to run screaming to the nearest indie film.

13 Going on 30 is cute, but ... well, cute is pretty much the only applicable word here. It's cute. If you like cute, dig in.

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