Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: 13 Going on 30 (2004)

Let us consider the career of Jennifer Garner. At one point in time, she was poised to be a break-out actress. She had a role in an upcoming superhero movie based on a hot Marvel property. “13 Going on 30” was a star vehicle for her that wound up being a surprise hit, cementing her commercial appeal. Hell, her marriage to certified superstar Ben Affleck made her seem like one-half of a power couple. Flash forward a decade later and she’s doing TV commercials. That superhero thing didn’t work out for her. Neither did the marriage. Because Hollywood is founded on sexist bullshit, Affleck has been given many chances but a flop sunk Garner to supporting parts in indie movies. She an actress I don’t have any strong feelings about, though as a fellow West Virginian her temporary success was mildly inspiring. So why do I own “13 Going on 30?” Gee, I wish I had an entire column devoted to answering that question…

As a 13 year old, Jenna Rink is dissatisfied with her life. She wants to be part of the cool crowd. Her best friend, Matt, is obviously in love with her but she’s unaware of his feelings. The Six Chicks, the cool girls at school, decide to come to her 13th birthday party. It’s a fiasco and, while hiding in the closest, Jenna sprinkles herself with magical powder while wishing she was thirty. She wakes up the next morning as her 30 year old self, a successful magazine editor with a glamours Manhattan apartment and a star athlete boyfriend. While she’s initially enamored of her thirty year old life, Jenna soon realizes she grows up to be a not-so-nice person.

“13 Going on 30” is obviously indebted to “Big.” There have been a number of age-swapping comedies over the years but “Big” is the one that looms over all the others. For a blatantly derivative movie, “13 Going on 30” gets a surprising amount of charm out of its premise. Much of the film coasts on easy eighties nostalgia. That isn’t to say that easy eighties nostalgia can’t be amusing. The scene where Jenna leads a club in a rousing rendition of “Thriller” is good for a laugh. The repeated call-backs to “Love is a Battlefield” gets a chuckle. The film trots out jokes familiar to anyone who has seen a kid-in-a-grown-up’s-body movie before. Jenna is embarrassed by her grown-up boy friend. She takes sexual double entendres literally. Her reaction to modern day technology, like cell phones, is bafflement. (Amusingly, the then-new phones look equally dated today.) When a friend says a guy is checking her out, she assumes it’s the 13 year old boy. However, some of these gags are actually funny. I like the scenes of her bonding with the teenage girls in her apartment building, for one example.

The performances help elevate the material at lot. Maybe “elevate” is the wrong word. “The performances are on a similarly silly but oddly sincere wavelength.” How ‘bout that?  Jennifer Garner certainly seems to be having fun. She dances, goofs around, and mugs for the camera. However, it’s not in a self-aware actorly fashion. Instead, she really is acting like a thirteen year old. She also has really nice chemistry with Mark Ruffalo as the expected nice guy love interest. Ruffalo’s especially laid-back charm goes well with Garner’s youthful energy. The scene of the two playing on a swing set is actually rather sweet. Though fully standard rom-com stuff, the viewer does want to see these two kids get together. Also, watch for a totally random supporting part from Andy Serkis of all people, as Garner’s boss.

“13 Going on 30” rambles along fairly amicably, Garner and Ruffalo’s relationship developing nicely. The movie’s subplot, about Garner’s floundering fashion magazine and what she’s willing to do to save it, is as functionary as could be. As you’d expect, that ridiculously indifferent story line comes to the forefront near the end. There’s this business of Judy Greer, as Gardner’s duplicitous best friend, stealing her magazine pitch and selling it to a rival publication. Jenna realizes how crappy of a person she is when she finds out that her 30-year old self has been selling information to the same competing magazines. Considering how insanely light-weight “13 Going on 30” is, the film is totally unprepared to handle any of these plot revelations. Because of the nature of the plot, we know this is all a moral lesson for her. As soon as she makes it back to the eighties, she’ll make sure not to repeat these mistakes. Predictably, exactly this happens.

Why Do I Own This?: There’s two reasons I own this, actually. A Netflix rental proved it to be a mildly amusing flick that I hold no ill will against. At some point, I needed a third movie to complete a “buy two, get one three” deal and “13 Going on 30” happen to be in the pile.

The second reason is a really stupid personal connection. My high school algebra teacher, Mr. Kane, mentioned once that an old friend of his played Garner’s love interest. He wasn’t talking about Mark Ruffalo but the hunky guy she dumps early on. Anyway, he talked about them having a band in high school called the Poopetz or something like that. Sure enough, on the special features of the DVD the actors mentions playing in just such a band. So, hey, my algebra teacher wasn’t full of shit. So there’s some totally useless trivia for you. Anyway, “13 Going on 30” is mildly entertaining in the fluffiest of ways, forgettable but harmless. [6/10]

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