If you’ve seen a trailer for 13 Going On 30 then undoubtedly you are saying the same thing everyone else who has seen a commercial for the movie is saying: Looks like a remake of Big. Well, it’s not a remake of the popular Tom Hanks comedy but it certainly does use the same plot concept, this time inserting a girl. A young girl, 13 to be exact, makes a wish to be 30 and wakes up the next morning to find her wish come true and then attempts to find her place in an adult’s world.
A child of the 80’s, Jenna Rink is tired of being a late bloomer and is fascinated by the women in her fashion magazines. When she finds herself the subject of a joke by a popular clique of girls she makes a wish. Thanks to the help of some mysterious (but never explained) “Wishing Dust” she wakes up looking like Jennifer Garner in the present day. Unlike Big where the main character simply woke up as an adult the next day, Jenna has actually leapt forward into her own life 17 years down the road. Now an editor of the fashion magazine she idolized as a child, Jenna tracks down her best friend from her younger age, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), to try and sort these events out. Matt has followed his interest in photography and is now a freelance photographer who hasn’t actually been Jenna’s friend since the eventful night that she made that wish. Of course the fact that 17 years has passed for Matt doesn’t seem to matter, as his old feelings seem to come back the second Jenna arrives on his doorstep, regardless of his engagement to another woman.
As performances go, Mark Ruffalo is probably a diamond in the rough in this movie, playing almost a complete opposite of his character from a few weeks ago in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Ruffalo continues to prove he has what it takes to be a leading man, not only in appearance but also creating a genuine and sincere character in his performance. It’s a shame he wastes that in a movie that’ll likely be passed up by a lot of people, keeping his sizable talent hidden from the masses yet again. Andy Serkis is also quite good, showcasing his comedic abilities by bringing his mug in front of the camera instead of letting a CGI company create his appearance (Serkis voiced and modeled for Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies). The biggest disappointment in the film is Garner, whose mawkish performance as Jenna is too bland and single noted as a character. Garner does make it believable that she’s seeing this world for the first time, unfortunately her character never seems to evolve past this type of a response or adapt to the world around her. Whether this is specifically a shortcoming of Garner’s is yet to be seen, but given Garner’s success on television in Alias I’d wager it’s a script and direction issue.
And the script is weak. It’s tremendously predictable through most of the film, and seldom believable. I’m not talking about the major event of going from 13 to 30 overnight, that has to be believed or else you have no movie. I’m talking about the smaller things like the film’s failure to mention the “Wishing Dust” past its introduction or nobody (especially friends who were there) ever responding to Jenna’s claims of being 13 just yesterday. Jenna’s entire characterization is just impossible to buy into. We’re told that she’s grown up to be a spoiled bitch but we see no evidence of this other then pictures of her in the popular clique from her yearbook, and a few random firings... Eventually everything falls out in an easily predicted manner and in the end doesn’t seem to matter. Throbbing to carelessly tossed in 80’s music, the movie goes nowhere, or in circles, or stalls for long periods of time so that we can be amused by Jenna’s antics, which in a normal world would have resulted in a quick psychiatrist visit.
I will give director Gary Winick (producer of the upcoming Pizza: The Movie) one bit of praise. There was one pop star that rose above everything in the 80’s. You can throw in as much Belinda Carlisle and Rick Springfield as you like, but there was no 80’s pop scene without The Gloved One – Michael Jackson. If you think about it, telling the story of a girl in a woman’s body who hangs out with little kids is probably not the best context to refer musically to Jackson given his current situation. Winick doesn’t let that interfere though and utilizes Jackson’s 80’s piece de resistance Thriller in one of the movies silliest scenes, taking place early enough in the film to still be funny.
So the comparisons are obvious, even though Big isn’t the only movie circling the “kid in an adult’s body” genre. Unfortunately for this adventure, Penny Marshall, Tom Hanks, and company already set the standard pretty high for the competition. With no real innovations, and some weak storytelling, 13 Going on 30 doesn’t even begin to touch its predecessor.