The Quarantine Stream: '13 Going on 30' May Be Silly, But It's Irresistibly Charming04/15/2021
Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: 13 Going on 30
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: It’s 1987 and Jenna Rink is 13, suffocated by her dorky parents and ignored by the hip kids in school. When her birthday party turns out to be a disaster, Jenna makes a wish: If only she could be grown up, she’d have the life she’s always wanted. The next day, when Jenna emerges from the closet, it’s 2004. She’s a gorgeous, successful 30-year-old (Jennifer Garner) with a great job and a fabulous apartment. Bewildered, Jenna gradually takes to her new life, but soon realizes something’s missing; her former best friend from next door, Matt. When she looks him up, she’s horrified to discover that she and Matt (Mark Ruffalo) are no longer in contact and he’s engaged to be married. Jenna learns that having it all is not enough and now her biggest wish is that it’s not too late to fall in love with the boy next door.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: 13 Going on 30 is most easily described as the gender-swapped version of Big. It’s a simple premise, but this spin takes the concept of a child stuck in a grown up body in a much different direction by leaning into the romantic comedy angle hard. Because of this, it can seem like the movie doesn’t quite measure up to Big. But thanks to the charisma and enthusiasm of Jennifer Garner, the charm of Mark Ruffalo, and a simple but handy lesson, I think 13 Going on 30 succeeds in places where Big fails.
On the surface, 13 Going on 30 just feels like a high-concept way of giving audiences a formulaic romance. While that element is undoubtedly there, it’s also elevated by the chemistry between Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo. Garner delivers unwavering energy and irresistible appeal and the latter can’t help but fall back in love with the girl that he used to know so many years ago. This is one of the areas where 13 Going on 30 triumphs over Big, because it gives us a romance that doesn’t feel quite so illicit. Matt was once in love with 13-year old Jenna, but she just needed a wake up call to see it. Is it cheesy? Absolutely, but for me, it works so well.
It’s that romantic turn that actually leads into the larger lesson of 13 Going on 30. Again, this isn’t anything groundbreaking, but I feel like this is where it truly surpasses Big in how it approaches the film’s premise. In Big, Josh Baskin just wants to be a little more grown up. The rest of the movie finds him falling into mundane adult life while he desperately tries to reverse the magic wish that made him that way. 13 Going on 30 doesn’t waste any time with Jenna trying to figure out how to get back to her younger self. Instead, it focuses on the reframing of her perspective on what her ideal adult self would be like and the life she missed out on by worrying about her image as a teen. With all the memes out there about how adulting is hard, 13 Going on 30 speaks directly to that in a way that is endearing and entertaining, even if it’s not groundbreaking. Though the movie may live in the shadow of Big, there’s no doubt that 13 Going on 30 deserves its time in the sun.
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