One thing that always undermines the seriousness of movie reviewing is the presumption that some critics assume when they pontificate about movies in a way that suggests that if they don’t like a film then it can’t really be all that good. Some movies, and such is the case with 13 Going On 30, should be looked at with a critical eye that takes into account the audience that the film was made for and whether or not that particular audience will find it enjoyable.
13 Going On 30 is a completely unoriginal story given a fresh, airy make-over that moves along at a pleasant clip because of the winning, likable performances of Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. The story is a simple one – a young girl named Jenna Rink (Garner) is at the frustrating age when she feels older than her 13 years and desperately yearns to be taken more seriously and live what she imagines to be the fuller life that she cannot wait to grow into. After wishing hard she wakes up having her wish come true and finds herself a 30 year-old woman with a great job, a fully developed, very noticeably sexy body, a seemingly flourishing life, but she has no idea how one is supposed to conduct oneself in such a life. She turns to her friend and neighbor from her adolescence, Matt, for help and guidance – only Matt, now grown up and engaged to be married, isn’t quite sure who she is or what she wants from him. During the course of this mysterious experience she discovers that there are some things in life that have to be grown into and can only be enjoyed with experience.
13 Going On 30 was directed by a guy named Gary Winick who is much better known for his low budget, gutsy projects. As a producer he is responsible for such films as Tape, Personal Velocity, and the Ethan Hawke directorial debut Chelsea Walls. As a director he made an impact with his oddly affecting Tadpole. He is playing in a different league with this film and has to play by the rules of that league. 13 Going On 30 is standard, straightforward cinematic story telling. The story is written in a simply, humorous fashion by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (the pair who wrote the huge Mel Gibson hit What Women Want). But the trick in writing humorous dialogue and humorous set pieces is having the people who can pull it off in front of the camera.
Jennifer Garner has made a name for herself on TV with the enduring hit show Alias, she stepped into the big-budget comic book actioner Daredevil one would assume for the pure exposure that project afforded her – in this role she is allowed to show her softer, more girly, feminine side and her performance is actually quite endearing. Had they stuck Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts in the role it would have been weighed down by that movie-star slickness, but with Garner you enjoy the goofiness and even though she is a powerfully beautiful woman the friendliness she exudes gives her performance a needed accessibility. Another noticeable performance is delivered by Mark Ruffalo, an actor who is just as comfortable in a slick thriller like In The Cut or a $100 million plus war film like Windtalkers as he is in a small Canadian film like My Life Without Me, is good enough to meld himself into any kind of film and be likable, if that is what is required, and convincing. Ruffalo’s eccentricity and his natural talent make him fun to watch in this role, which would probably not have been the case had one of the Friends been cast.
What keeps this movie from being better, I think, is its sheer predictability – although the film starts in 1978 and jumps ahead instantly so Jenna Rink has indeed lost all the intervening years (in that place Rod Serling used to call… The Twilight Zone) providing some potential for some interesting twists, but even that becomes rather obvious rather quickly.
But the question really is not whether or not an adult male enjoys this film about a young woman moving from a delicate age into adulthood in a literal flash, it is whether or not young women will enjoy it. I think they will, they will certainly identify with it a lot more than I could ever expect to. But in the end I think even young women will find the film a bit too familiar.
Image Courtesy of Buena Vista.
Review copyright Christopher Heard.