It's 1987, and skinny, bookish 13-year-old Jenna Rink wants three things: To be part of the popular "Six Chicks" clique at her middle school, to be as "fabuloso" as the models she sees in Poise magazine, and to catch the eye of the cute Chris Grandy. Instead, she's doing homework for the Six Chicks so they'll come to her birthday party, she's gawky and undeveloped, and the guy in her life is the roly-poly Matty, who comes with his ever-present camera.

Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink

Jennifer Garner as Jenna Rink

When her party flops-the best gift is a dream house from Matty, who's also the best guest-Jenna kicks Matt out, closes her eyes and wishes to be "thirty and flirty and thriving." Aided by some magic wishing dust that came with Matty's gift, she wakes up the next morning to her wish. It's suddenly 17 years later, and to her delight, Jenna's got what looks like a fabulous life—with a great apartment, an attractive boyfriend and a job at Poise. But she's also become someone she doesn't recognize inside. And the damage she's done may be beyond repair.

This romantic comedy is essentially an updated version of Big (1988) and deals with themes similar to The Kid (2000), but actors Christa Allen and Jennifer Garner play gawky-turned-gorgeous Jenna so well, you almost don't care. Viewers who are used to seeing Garner play the tough girl Sydney Bristow in Alias will admire her transformation into a wide-eyed, winsome chick with the pluck to save the failing magazine and patch up her life. And there are some great moments of physical comedy, especially right after Jenna coltishly discovers her transformation. The film is also full of hilarious '80s pop-culture references to Pop Rocks candy, Casio keyboards, Fruit Roll-Ups, Lisa Frank stationery and the like. It also includes probably the cutest "Thriller" dance in recent history.

Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer

Jennifer Garner and Judy Greer

Though predictable, the film does come with a solid message: The choices we make, even those made during those painful, awkward years of junior high and high school, really do matter down the road. With the help of the now-grown, now-handsome Matt and her high-school yearbooks, Jenna concludes, "I'm not a nice person." As the movie unfolds, she realizes that 13-year-old Jenna's determination to be cool instead of original has resulted in loneliness and empty relationships for the 30-year-old. Though she enjoys occasional triumphs, she's repeatedly undercut as the chickens come home to roost. Fortunately—and I don't think this is a plot spoiler in a relatively predictable movie—she gets the chance to go back and make things right.

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The other message? Image isn't everything. Jenna finds the magazine industry—the same one that influenced her adolescent dreams—to be superficial and cutthroat. She can't trust anyone in the office, and finds that they focus on characteristics that "Holly Housewife" could never attain. It's hard for her to even know whether the noses she sees in the office are real or fake. Still, people long for something more, something genuine. Jenna has a moment of glee when the wholesome yearbook-styled photos she's had Matt shoot for the magazine's upcoming redesign beat a coworker's deathly serious heroin-chic photos.

Mark Ruffalo as Matt, Jenna's love interest

Mark Ruffalo as Matt, Jenna's love interest

Though this is probably a good overall pick, especially for older teens, it would be a bit better (and more family-friendly) without the sprinkling of low-grade, corny sexual innuendos. Grown-up Jenna lives with her boyfriend and repeatedly expresses girlish delight at her newly-developed body. She finds out that she's been sleeping with a married man. There's also an eye-roll worthy striptease when Jenna's boyfriend undresses to Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby"—a part of the '90s most of us would rather forget. Occasionally, there are some sexual references that would make my mom wince.

All in all, this is a lighthearted, warm-and-fuzzy flick for fans of romantic comedy that leaves you rooting for the triumph of its newly enlightened heroine, who was always a good girl deep inside.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. The movie deals with the question of popularity and its effects on relationships. Have you ever compromised your beliefs to be popular? What was the result?

  2. How much are your plans for life or views on important issues influenced by what you read in magazines or see on TV? How have you found the promises of media to be true? False?

  3. How far should a person go to change or "fix" the past? Is there ever a time when one should forget old hurts inflicted on others? Is it worth asking for forgiveness?

  4. Why are relationships important? Is it important to keep in touch with old friends from the past? Why or why not?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The movie has several sexual innuendos and double entendres. The younger characters trade put-downs. Additionally, characters often wear low-cut outfits, and Jenna's friend refers to her as a "tough bitch." Pre-teen girls also use some coarse language.

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What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet

from Film Forum, 04/29/04

In the season finale of TV's popular spy series Alias several months ago, agent Sidney Bristow, played by Jennifer Garner, woke up to discover that she could not account for the last two years of her life. In her first big screen leading role, Garner plays a character who wakes up missing seventeen years.

Garner plays Jenna, a frustrated, geeky 13-year-old who longs to be popular. When she makes a wish (yes, it's that kind of fairy tale) to be "thirty and flirty and thriving," she wakes up in the body of her future 30-year-old self. But this kind of success is not all it's cracked up to be, and Jenna has a lot to learn before returning to her 13-year-old state—if that return journey is even possible.

Mainstream critics have high praise for Garner, but offer ho-hum reviews for the movie. Most religious press critics appreciate some of the film's themes. Some are enthusiastic, while others voice reservations.

LaTonya Taylor (Christianity Today Movies) writes, "This is a lighthearted, warm-and-fuzzy flick for fans of romantic comedy that leaves you rooting for the triumph of its newly enlightened heroine." But she adds, "It would be a bit better (and more family-friendly) without the sprinkling of low-grade, corny, sexual innuendos."

Misty Wagner (Christian Spotlight) says, "I loved this movie! It was fun, entertaining, and left me with a great feeling. [It's] a beautiful story of forgiveness, second chances, accepting others for who they are, and making the best out of wherever we are in life. If you feel your teen can handle the objectionable content in this film, then I encourage it, because it has lessons and realities that today's youth need to learn."

Andrew Coffin (World) writes, "It will probably surprise no one that 13 Going on 30 is not in the least bit surprising. The film succeeds in being mildly amusing, but it's not terribly appropriate for the preteen audience most likely to appreciate its mild humor and simplistic (though worthy) lessons about being nice to others and true to oneself. Although relatively subdued by PG-13 standards, there's quite a bit of sexual innuendo in the humor."

Tom Neven (Plugged In) calls it "a sweet, humorous movie. Jenna's naïveté is refreshing, and her reaction to the sexual obsession of the people of 2004 is a breath of fresh air. Today's teens can learn lessons in appreciating what they have today while watching the potential outcomes of certain life choices." But he finds himself in a quandary regarding how to advise parents: "As the father of both a teenage daughter and son, I'd like them (especially her) to learn [the film's] positive lessons, but I'm not sure they won't also take away the idea that growing up naturally includes live-in relationships and male stripteases."

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David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) also cautions parents that there is some "tame sexual humor." But he calls the film "a sweet, emotionally satisfying fairy tale. Garner displays a surprisingly honed sense of comic timing, which helps her maintain the convincing illusion of an ungainly girl trapped in a grown-up's body."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) says Garner gives "a surprisingly enjoyable comedic performance. She somehow managed to capture that strange and nebulous age that straddles childhood and adulthood. She is engaging, vulnerable, and delightful as the thirteen year old trapped in a thirty year old body. As a romantic comedy, 13 Going on 30 delivers big time."

13 Going on 30
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(4 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sexual content and brief drug references)
Directed By
Gary Winick
Run Time
1 hour 38 minutes
Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer
Theatre Release
April 23, 2004 by Sony Pictures
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