Big Deal

I am going to give 13 Going on 30 credit, though it’s hardly worth the effort. Lord knows the filmmakers didn’t put much into it. It’s a shame, because what could have been an engaging story about the unfair price a woman pays for conducting herself like a man winds up as nothing more than worthless piffle. It might even have stood as an accidentally subversive fable until its final moments, when it surrenders to the obvious.

In 1987, 13-year-old Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) parades around her room with a stuffed bra and a women’s magazine opened to an article on how to be “30 and flirty.” Jenna dreams of being popular with the high school’s in crowd but is saddled with a flat chest and a nebbishy friend named Matt (Sean Marquette) who covers her with “wishing dust” and serenades her with his Casio keyboard. After being humiliated by the cool kids at her birthday party, Jenna tells Matt to go to hell and goes to bed, only to awake in a Manhattan apartment and in the body of Alias‘ Jennifer Garner. Needless to say, confusion and wackiness ensue as Jenna discovers a naked man in her shower and a car waiting downstairs to take her to her job as an editor of the same magazine she adored as a kid.

The movie sounds like an updated variant of those 1980s fairy tales in which a kid finds himself in the body of Dudley Moore, Judge Reinhold or Tom Hanks and grows up just enough to realize that adults are cruel and manipulative. In Big, Tom Hanks played it too young (more 8 than 13). Here, Garner plays too old, and you can see her acting. Far better is Mark Ruffalo as the grown-up Matt, who’s morphed into a good-looking guy but still carries himself like a kid waiting for the bully to push him into a locker. There’s an endearing tentativeness in his performance, especially when he confronts Jenna about her childhood cruelty.

Jenna, unlike Big‘s Josh, doesn’t suddenly become, well, big. She’s just missing 17 years of her life — years that turned a buoyant, charming girl into a miserable and unlikable woman. Jenna doesn’t speak to her parents, has alienated all of her childhood friends, has betrayed her boss and has screwed a coworker’s husband in her office many times. Jenna can’t believe she’s not just a grown-up but a horrible one.

The movie gives Jenna a chance at a do-over. If only director Gary Winick (Tadpole) and writers Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith (What Women Want) had decided to skip the magic dust and cover their fairy tale instead with the emotional grunge of real life. What if Jenna hadn’t magically grown up but instead had suffered a psychotic break upon realizing she couldn’t be the kind of woman her magazine sells to impressionable 13-year-old girls? A Hollywood movie dolling up a grim story as fantasy might have been downright subversive. Instead, the movie cops out with a final sprinkling of magic dust and a coat of pink paint. Can we get a do-over?

Categories: Movies