Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4
By the time this movie is over, we all have a better understanding of why some
relatively uninhibited 20-somethings used to wear T-shirts with the slogan
"Die, Yuppie Scum!" (For the benefit of readers in foreign lands, yuppies are
young urban professionals, generally people in the fields of law, publishing
and finance, who on the one hand work hard and play hard, but on the other hand
may tend to be snobbish and to gentrify neighborhood to the dismay of the poor
tenants therein.) How does this film, directed with a swift pace by Gary Winick
whose "Tadpole" is by contrast a far more intelligent and witty piece of work
help teach us the inner working of homo sapien yuppica? Working with Cathy
Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith's sentimental but not particularly challenging script,
Winick bring home the idea that the worst thing that can happen to us is the
loss of innocence as childhood gives way to calloused, self-centered
adulthood. This is not to say that Yuspa and Goldsmight consider every kid
sweetness and light, sugar and spice and everything nice. Judy Greer (Lucy
Wyman), for example, leads a pack of mean middle-school witches intent on using
young Jenna Rink (Crista B. Allen) as a doormat. Doormat ditto against the
pudgy but genuinely nice Matt (Sean Marquette), who at one point spends three
weeks making an elaborate, inhabited doll house for the girl who is the center
of his unrequited crush.
The story begins in 1987 with Jenna, whose relationship with her parents is
just fine but doomed to deteriorate in the years to come. The flat-chested
13-year-old is addicted to fashion magazines, particular one called "Poise" (a
glorified "People" publication perhaps akin to "Vogue"), which convinces her
that substituting big boobs for her dorky braces will mean that real life
begins at 30. Wishing makes it so for Jenna (now played by Jennifer Garner).
With the help of some angel dust, she finds herself with a lithe body
inhabiting lush digs her New York Ranger boyfriend, a complete stranger to her,
appearing half naked while in a future scene he embarrasses her by performing
a strip tease. She quickly finds out that she's an editor at the very "Poise"
magazine and that her foul friend Lucy Wyman works in the same capacity in an
office next door.
Her life really changes, however, when she discovers that her nerdy childhood
friend, Matt Flamhaff (now played by Mark Ruffalo), has blossomed into a cool
guy, slimmed-down body, and a creative job in photography. As she works on her
career at "Poise," she is now distracted by thoughts of the new Matt, due to be
married in a few weeks, but not to her. Why not? In her rise to publishing
heaven, she has discarded her old pals together with all the innocent values
that good little children are said to possess.
Movie-goers will see obvious parallels between "13 Going on 30" and films
spotlighting similar fantasies. In Penny Marshall's "Big" (1988), Tom Hanks
inhabits the role of a 12-year-old who grows suddenly into a man of 30, while
Gary Nelson's "Freaky Friday" last year pulls a mother-and-daughter switcheroo.
Brett Ratner's "Family Man" highlights the Nic Cage character as a yuppie
with no emotional ties, wondering whether he'd have been better off staying in
New Jersey with the love of his life in a smart, imaginative tale that is very
much a part of this exploited subgenre.
Notwithstanding the well-paced plot and a good sound track particularly the use
of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" to illustrate a show-stopping dance and Pat
Benatar's prescient song "Love Is a Battlefield" which sums up what Jena has
lost, Jennifer Garner, whose not particularly appealing looks belie her
effervescent personality, is no Tom Hanks. In fact cannot compare in comic
depth with Barbara Harris or Jodie Foster in Gary Nelson's original 1977
"Freaky Friday." Save for the dance scene which parallels Penny Marshall's
"Big" view of a 30-year-old dancing on an elongated piano keyboard at FAO
Schwartz, "13" is predictable, thanks in part to the presence of so many other
features of this nature. We are told that Jena has spoken rarely to her
parents since she made a splash at the magazine and that she snobbishly ignores
her neighbors as she proves when a 13-year-old next door is stunned to be
spoken to by Jena for the first time. The icy descent is insufficiently
delineated, the show-steal belonging not to Ms. Garner's work but to the
talented, laid-back performance of Mark Ruffalo.
Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten