Movie review in the Friday, April 23 Oregonian....
As a moviegoing experience, "13 Going on 30" is a charming, funny piece of wish-fulfillment for young girls -- and, if you're much older than that, a totally disturbing critique of male sexuality.
More on the disturbing stuff later. After all, older straight men probably wouldn't (or shouldn't?) be caught dead in a showing of this flick, at least not without daughters in tow. Suffice to say that "13 Going on 30"'s intended audience (teenage girls, one hopes) will devour the film's premise -- which works as both a lo-cal, female version of "Big" and a fun, dumb riff on "It's A Wonderful Life."
Our story begins in 1987, in an opening sequence that's a pitch-perfect distillation of John Hughes teen comedies, right down to the fashions and music. (It's not hard in these early scenes to guess what director Gary Winick's been watching for inspiration.) Chubby junior-high photographer Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.) quietly pines for Jenna (Christa B. Allen) -- who keeps him at arm's length while she dreams of (what else?) being popular. Too bad she can't see how perfect Matt is; sucker's so ahead of the curve, he listens to Talking Heads!
Following complications too silly to detail (they involve a dollhouse sprinkled with magic dust), Jenna gets dissed by the cool kids, wishes she was "30, Flirty and Thriving" -- and suddenly finds herself flash-forwarded into her own body, 17 years later, where she's played by "Alias" überhottie Jennifer Garner.
Jenna has no memory of the past decade and change, and is delighted to discover -- with her Manhattan address, magazine-editor job, and New York Ranger boyfriend -- that she's been dropped into a Candace Bushnell novel. She's less delighted to discover she's become slightly evil since junior high. Much wackiness -- most of it involving Garner acting like a 13-year-old while looking disturbingly alluring in a miniskirt -- and simple lessons about the wisdom of teenagers ensue. Plus, things get complicated when Jenna tracks down the modern-day Matt (Mark Ruffalo) to help her fill in the blanks, and he's become like totally hot and artistic!
"13 Going on 30" is all about the simple homilies: Jenna tells her boss (Andy Serkis) that "we need to remember what used to be good" as she proposes re-designing her magazine to look like a cross between a junior-high yearbook and a Ralph Lauren ad. There's something quietly delightful about a teen movie pointing out, in these jaded times, that laughter and silliness and being nice are more important than being "cool" -- and Garner's wonderful when she's conveying the wide-open delight and pain of a teenage girl who nurses a crush and misses her parents; she has a great wounded face. (All this and she gets to quote Pat Benatar and re-enact the moves from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video; talk about a role to tear a cat in!)
Ultimately, the film wins you over with its essential sweetness -- despite the flat production values and the fact that, toward the end, the screenwriters very nearly forget that Jenna's a mental 13-year-old, choosing instead to play the final act as straight romantic comedy.
Which brings us, finally, to that disturbing-critique stuff for older viewers. As with "Connie and Carla," it's advisable not to think too deeply about "13 Going on 30"'s larger implications. Don't ask, for example, if we need another movie that paints a nasty picture of successful women, or what the film's saying about men when it shows a sophisticated guy falling in love with a sexy woman with a 13-year-old brain. After all, your daughters won't be asking those questions. Will they?
(97 minutes; rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief drug references) Grade: B