In the land of 13 Going on 30, magic exists. It’s what is used to set-up the plot, and ultimately is used as the film concludes. It apparently cannot fix any problems that it causes, nor is it ever explained how it comes into being, as only one character seems to have the ability to use it, and said character only does so twice.
One night in 1987, on the 13th birthday party of one Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen), some kids are mean to her. They ditch her party, and leave her there with only one of her friends. He is the nice, geeky, guy, and she is similar in personality. That’s why they’re friends, after all, and it now seems a mistake to have invited the popular children to this party. The male gives Jenna a doll house with “magical wishing dust” on the roof. Jenna, having previously looked at fashion magazines of older people, wishes to be 30 years old.
The next morning, she wakes up in the body of Jennifer Garner. She’s still Jenna Rink, as she soon finds out, but her wish actually did come true. She’s 30, and the year is now 2004. Rink is now a successful editor of the same fashion magazine that she was looking at 17 years prior. She doesn’t know this, or who anyone else is. She’s been catapulted into the body of a 30-year-old, while still retaining her 13-year-old’s mind, and is without the memory of the past 17 years.
This is an interesting premise. We get to see the adult world through the eyes of a 13-year-old who has just been given a lot more responsibility than she should have. And at first, this idea pays off. There are some early laughs coming from the situations where Jenna knows nothing about what it’s like to be an adult. And at these early moments, there’s actually some light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to Garner’s acting.
But we quickly realize that this light is an oncoming vehicle, and by the end of the film you come to the conclusion that the vehicle must have clipped you when passing by. Not a head-on collision that makes the film a total disaster, but enough of a clip to make you feel shaky in the end result. A couple of speed bumps occur along the way that cause you to feel this way, if you want to extend the road metaphor even further.
Despite not being an amazing film, I can’t deny that, for the most part, I enjoyed 13 Going on 30.
The first problem does come directly from the way Jennifer Garner’s character is written. At first, it seemed like simply acting like a 13-year-old would be enough. But she ends up often forgetting that her character is supposed to be mentally and emotionally 13 years old. From scene-to-scene, later in the film, her inconsistency makes us take a step back. In one scene, she’ll act courageous, just like a confident adult would, but in the next she’ll be back to a mental 13. And sometimes, she’ll act like she’s much younger than 13. We saw the 13-year-old Jenna, and she didn’t act like the emotional child that Garner sometimes seems like. I get that overplaying this was just for the comedy, but it comes across as very inconsistent. At least Garner gives the film energy for most of its runtime.
The second problem comes from the premise not being quite interesting enough to stretch into a full film. Or at least, the writers didn’t create enough different situations for us to experience. A lot of the film either involves Jenna at the workplace, or outside of it hanging out with her old school buddy, Matt (Mark Ruffalo). There are some interesting situations, like when the cast decides to re-enact Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but this scene just made me cringe instead of inspire whatever it was that it was aiming for.
Actually, when it comes to the humor of 13 Going on 30, a lot of it is cringe-worthy. You’ll probably laugh, but it’ll be a stifled laughter because you’ll feel bad about laughing. The sheer absurdity of some of the moments of the film will make you slap your head in frustration and disappointment. But the thing is, you’ll still be laughing, which ultimately makes the film a success in my eyes.
Before you ask, yes, the plot is quite predictable. Like many romantic comedies, you won’t be surprised by much that happens. You might be surprised how quickly some things wrap-up. There’s one “twist,” if you can call it that, late in the movie which is supposed to be devastating. But then, not more than 5 or 10 minutes later, it’s resolved. What was the point of that?
Despite not being an amazing film, I can’t deny that, for the most part, I enjoyed 13 Going on 30. It’s the kind of film that makes you feel kind of bad for laughing, given how crazy some of the situations it throws at you are, but you’ll laugh nonetheless. The writing of Garner’s character is incredibly inconsistent, but she gives the film the type of energy it needs. Its premise can’t carry the entire film, and the energy does drop off a touch by the end, but on the whole, it was good enough to not feel like a waste of my time.
Conclusion: 13 Going on 30 is a serviceable romantic comedy.
Recommendation: If you like rom-coms, this is one worth watching.