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13 Going on 30 (April 20/04)

The body-switching genre is virtually foolproof, a no-brainer that even the most inept screenwriter would be hard pressed to screw up. There are a few must-include plot points that inevitably appear - ie at least one reference to new and improved genitals - with little need for innovation, particularly in films dealing with a teenager turning into the adult version of themselves. 13 Going on 30 is just such a movie.

Essentially a female Big, the film opens with 13-year-old Jenna Rink (played by Christa B. Allen) lamenting her miserable, unpopular existence. Her best friend Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.), a fellow social outcast (how do we know he's a social outcast? He's into photography and listens to The Talking Heads), provides Jenna with a special birthday gift - wishing powder. Naturally, Jenna wishes she were 30 and almost immediately wakes up in the body of Jennifer Garner. A successful magazine editor, the older Jenna thinks her life is perfect but soon discovers otherwise.

A lot of credit for the success of 13 Going on 30 lies with Garner, stepping into a leading film role for the first time in her career. Though the trailers seemed to indicate a desperation in attempting to elicit laughs, Garner quickly dispels that notion and delivers an easygoing, natural performance. Her apparent ease with the often silly material - the film does, after all, require her to behave like a teenager - goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, even when the story backslides into obvious clichés.

It doesn't hurt that Garner's been surrounded by an uncommonly talented supporting cast, lead by Mark Ruffalo (playing the adult Matt). As he's proven in films such as You Can Count On Me and The Last Castle, Ruffalo is an exceedingly charismatic performer - and as such, generally tends to remove the focus from whoever he's sharing the screen with. This is certainly true here, though Garner does an effective job of holding her own during scenes with the actor.

Not surprisingly, the filmmakers milk the fish-out-of-water hook for all it's worth, placing Jenna in a variety of awkward situations (when she first awakes as adult Jenna, she comes face-to-face with her naked boyfriend). This does, however, lead to several genuinely intriguing sequences - particularly the moment in which Jenna livens up a dead party by leading the dance floor to a Thriller sing-along. It's something we don't believe would happen in real life for a second, but it works, thanks primarily to Garner's obvious enthusiasm.

But, as we've come to expect from such films, the story takes an unfortunate turn when Jenna begins to realize that her new life isn't that great (it probably doesn't help that the adult Jenna is something of a bitch). Exacerbating the problem is the fact that this dramatic portion of the movie goes on far too long, and proves to be somewhat unnecessary. Still, Garner's performance effectively keeps things interesting, even when the film is going through the motions as the conclusion draws near. And though 13 Going on 30 doesn't quite come close to Big, it is a worthy addition to the genre.

out of

© David Nusair