It is 1987 and Jenna is a 13-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood. The problem is that adulthood is just not arriving fast enough. She's suffocated by her dorky parents, ignored by the hip kids in school--and the cute guy she has a crush on barely knows her name. No longer content to spend time only with her best friend and neighbor, Matt Flamhaff, Jenna invites the cool kids to her 13th birthday party. But the party is a disaster. Jenna is humiliated when she's locked in the closet for a game of "Seven Minutes in Heaven" and everyone deserts her. Alone in the closet, Jenna makes an earnest wish. If only she could be all grown up, she'd have the life she's always wanted. Miraculously, her wish comes true. The next day, when Jenna emerges from the closet, it's 2004 and she's 30 years old. What's more, she is a gorgeous successful woman with a great job and a fabulous Fifth Avenue apartment. She is finally cool and popular. The only hitch? She has absolutely no idea how she got there. Initially frightened but gradually enchanted by her new life, Jenna soon realizes there's something missing--Matt. When she looks him up, she is horrified to discover that she and Matt are no longer in contact and, furthermore, he is engaged to be married. Jenna learns that 'having it all' is not enough and decides to take a second chance at first love. Now her biggest wish is that it's not too late.
The comedy "13 Going on 30" is essentially a retread of "Big." What keeps the picture going is the director Gary Winick's love for actors, and his refusal to judge them by the characters they play. And any movie that telegraphs its fondness for its cast automatically has something going for it that's rare in contemporary comedy; this isn't one of those movies in which most of the actors steer clear of upstaging the star. This spiritual decency, a handful of songs from the toddler days of MTV and a few other fillips of clear-eyed charm go a long way toward making up for the tiredness of the concept, a kid magically leapfrogging into the body of an adult. In this case, it's 13-year-old Jenna (Christa B. Allen), who's suffering through a miserable failure of a birthday. When some magic dust that a friend gives her lands on her carefully moussed hair, she awakens from a nap as a 30-year-old version of herself (Jennifer Garner). As acted by Ms. Garner, Jenna has a coltish gawkiness that she never quite sublimates. The obvious laughs are wrung from the contrast of an inexperienced child in a mature body, as Jenna bobs through a world in which the supposed adults turn out to be more childish than she is. The performances give the movie more flavor and life than the situation, which often feels like pre-chewed Bubble Yum. — Elvis Mitchell
2004-04-23 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of 13 Going On 30