13 GOING ON 30

Starring Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer and Andy Serkis

Directed by Gary Winick

Review by Mark Walters

Anyone that knows me well can tell you that I've never been a fan of the "chick flick" genre.  So going to this film after seeing the somewhat silly trailer was a definite leap of faith.  Then again, Jennifer Garner is easy on the eyes, and I was anxious to see if she could carry a film in the lead.  Was I pleasantly surprised?  Well...

13 GOING ON 30 follows a familiar premise.  Numerous times I made jokes to my friends about how "I liked it the first time I saw it when it was called BIG!"  You all surely remember the Tom Hanks flick about a young boy who wishes he was big, then wakes up the next day as a grown man.  Then of course he succeeds as a grown man because his innocent child-like mind becomes a welcome breath of fresh air to the stuffy corporate system.  Well 13 GOING ON 30 should've been called BIG TOO, since the formula is followed in pretty much the same manner.  Granted there are some differences.

This story opens in an accurately depicted 1987 with a young Jenna Rink (played extremely well by newcomer Shana Dowdeswell) dealing with the difficulties of a preppy grade school, and her own 13th birthday.  Jenna is a smart but naive young girl that becomes a constant victim to the popular girls at her school, who are led by a rather mean girl named Lucy.  Her best friend and next door neighbor Matt is the only one in her life that seems to understand her.  She dreams of being like one of the models in her favorite fashion magazine called Poise.  For her birthday Matt builds her a custom Dream House, complete with her dream life depicted cleverly inside.  He even sprinkles some wishing dust on top, in hopes of giving Jenna an extra edge toward a better life.  When the popular kids in school take advantage and embarrass Jenna during her birthday party, she hides in the closet and wishes to be 30, flirty and thriving.  The next morning Jenna wakes up to find out she is suddenly 30 years old, living in an expensive loft, and one of the top editors for (can you guess?) Poise magazine.

Here's where the film becomes a mess of convenience.  The newly 30 Jenna (Jennifer Garner) for some reason doesn't remember the last 17 years of her life.  She surprised to find out that Lucy is now her best friend and co-worker, she is now dating a superstar hockey player, and her family is now very much out of her life.  She quickly looks for Matt, only to find out he hasn't spoke to her since high school.  Her boss (Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies) is worried that Poise magazine may be headed down the tubes, unless his staff can figure out a way to breathe new life into it.  As interesting as her new life is, Jenna finds she may not like the person she has become.  But there may still be time to do things right.

The opening of the film, which does a great job of portraying the sounds and looks of the late eighties, is easily the most entertaining part.  Shana Dowdeswell is great as young Jenna, and her relationship with young Matt is sweet and innocent, begging us to enjoy those moments.  But once Jenna grows up, everything gets kinda wacky.  At some point we want someone around her to ask what the heck is wrong with her?!  But no one does, it's just all fun and games, and everything that a girl wants to see in a movie.  Hence the category of "chick flick".  The film gets so sappy and convenient that I just couldn't enjoy it.  Garner is cute, and has some funny moments, but it's not enough to save this film.  Judy Greer turns in a competent performance as the older Lucy, who hasn't changed much since school.  Mark Ruffalo gives his usual quiet humble guy performance, and Andy Serkis is rather funny as the flamboyant boss of Poise magazine.  I know Andy, and will certainly have to give him a hard time over one scene in particular where he and everyone else dances in perfect rhythm to Michael Jackson's THRILLER.  While the movie has laughs, it's just too convenient for it's own good.  It would've been nice to see Jenna learn the hardships of being an adult, and take something away from that, but instead she just finds ways to fit in, no matter the circumstances.  The only real problem she faces is her romantic feelings for the older Matt, and can anyone out there predict how that all ends up?

Now I don't want to just sit here and trash the film non-stop.  I will say that the women around me, especially the group of girls to my left who were passing Kleenexes back and forth constantly, seemed to love everything about it.  I think in the end this film just wasn't made for guys like me.  It's not a terrible movie, just predictable.  For the most part the performances are solid, and the movie is directed well by Gary Winick.  I would've liked to see more of the eighties moments.  In fact Gary should do a film that takes place entirely in the eighties, just for the comedic possibilities.  As for Jennifer Garner, I think she's best when she's serious.  ALIAS proves she can play drama and action flawlessly.  Maybe I just didn't like seeing her play everything so silly.  I'm not sure how to feel about a film like this, other than to say it's just not my kind of flick.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give 13 GOING ON 30 a 4.



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