Back in 1988, Tom Hanks was mainly known for silly lowbrow comedies like “Bachelor Party” and “Dragnet.” His first starring role was in 1984’s “Splash,” director Ron Howard’s mermaid-out-of-water tale. It was a successful crossover into mainstream comedy. But that movie’s success hadn’t really been attributed to him.
Then came “Big.” Penny Marshall directed Hanks in a sweet movie where he showcased his sensitive side and portrayed a 12-year-old boy in a grown-up’s body. It was so convincing that he received his first Oscar nomination, and it pointed his career in an entirely new direction.
Sixteen years later comes Jennifer Garner in “13 Going on 30.” Known as undercover super-agent Sydney Bristow on the critically acclaimed TV action/drama “Alias,” she’s not the first person you’d normally think of for a screwball family comedy. But she’s a chameleon of sorts, deep undercover in a different disguise every week on the show. And in “13 Going on 30,” Garner makes a tired, unimaginative script actually bearable for 90 minutes.
Right from the opening scene of “13 Going on 30,” it’s obvious how similar the script is to “Big.” Instead of wishing on an old carnival fortune teller, young Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) wishes on some magic dust for her nerdy pre-teen days to be over and is somehow transported 17 years into the future.
Jenna wakes up looking like Jennifer Garner, and running the Manhattan-based fashion magazine she idolized as a kid. Familiar wacky body-switching humor comes next, but Garner’s wild-eyed innocence is contagious as she literally comes to grips with her older body.
Unfortunately, the story soon reveals itself to be nothing more than a retread of past ideas. Gary Winick directed 2002’s charming, somewhat quirky “Tadpole.” Here, however, saddled with less perceptive material, he must rely on Garner’s considerable charm to keep the audience’s focus away from the hackneyed plot. It is a story filled with holes.
In one funny sequence, Jenna wakes up with a naked man in her bed. It is, of course, her boyfriend, but being 13 in her mind, she is somewhat horrified at his immediate advances. But she starts hanging out with her former best friend and new romantic interest, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), who is also 30 now. There’s one scene where the naked guy meets ex-best friend, and then—poof! Evidently somebody sprinkled some more magic dust, because naked boyfriend is never heard from or talked about again.
While “13 Going on 30” serves itself up as the Keystone Light of “Vice Versa” movies, it also annoyingly adds itself to the ever-growing list of movies that think being kitschy about the 1980s is funny. But the movie tried too many times (in vain) to squeeze laughs out of a bad haircut or song. I kept thinking Mo Rocca was going to come on and make some snide remark for VH1.
Jenna, of course, eventually learns the same lesson we learned in “Big,” that we all need to find the kid inside of us again. She also learns not to grow up to be a conniving jerk. Jenna soon uncovers the truth about what she has become to achieve her goals. And Judy (Lucy Greer), her co-worker and friend at “Poise” magazine, turns out to be a backstabber as well.
Greer has one uncharacteristically hilarious scene where she redesigns “Poise” magazine as the ultimate in “serious fashion.” Showing photos of dangerously thin, pale-skinned models dressed in outrageous costumes and covered in black make-up, she re-defines “Poise” as “the ultimate in heroin chic! We will go too far. We will O.D.!”
Is it too much to ask for something slightly different than “Big”? I suppose that was sixteen years ago and this movie’s teenage target audience likely hasn’t seen it. Still, I’d like to know how this doesn’t qualify as a remake? The same lessons are learned through virtually the same journey.
While “13 Going on 30” isn’t anywhere near as insightful or delightful as “Big,” it may provide a similar kind of spark for Garner as it did for Hanks. I’m not saying this is Oscar material, but expect to see a lot more of her winning smile. Let’s just hope that next time she chooses better material.