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IN SHORT: For 13 year olds (sic) only. [Rated PG-13 for some Sexual Content & Brief Drug References. 95 minutes]
It may be hard to believe for theater goers of a certain age, but there was a time when Pat Benetar's song "Love is a Battlefield," both audio and video, was considered cutting edge. Don't laugh. That was late in the 1980s, which is where we begin this story of a just-hitting-that-awkward-part-of-puberty girl who just wants to be big.
The hardest part of sitting through a movie aimed at young teengirls, from this grown-up's point of view, is that we've never been a young teengirl and, not having any of our own, are like a thirsty man wandering in the desert. We have to fall back on the very simple basics of criticism: does the story hold our attention? Is the main character sympathetic and/or believable and/or interesting to watch? That character doesn't have to be likeable, but it helps.
As far as 13 Going on 30 goes, the main character is likable but that's about it. With no teengirls in our audience -- best we saw were early 20s and they all walked out muttering that the film was the worst thing they've ever seen -- it's hard to write anything other than the parental POV. Our niece is 14 and, given that she's the closest we're ever going to get to watching a child grow up, there is nothing in 13 Going on 30 that would concern us, as a parent, and make us think twice about letting a young teengirl fly solo.
99 percent of the reading audience knows what it was like to be at that awkward stage of post-adolescence / early teenhood. The body is going bananas, you may feel ugly and awkward, most everyone is wearing a couple of hunks of metal on their teeth -- everyone who wasn't part of the A crowd knows that feeling regardless of age. That's where we begin with young Jenny Rink (Christa B Allen), first seen celebrating her thirteenth birthday. Jenny is almost desperate to fit in with the school in-crowd, the "Six Chicks" led by a girl nicknamed Tom Tom (Alexandra Kyle) but she is doomed to be best friends with Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.), the fat boy next door. Humiliated at her birthday party by The Six, Jenny retreats to her "magic closet" and wishes fervently that she were "thirty, flirty and thriving."
Faster than you can say Shazam!, she is. At thirty, Jenny (Jennifer Garner) is editor of Poise Magazine, which she devoured as a kid. Tom Tom, aka Lucy Wyman (Judy Greer) is a co-worker and her best friend. She hasn't seen Matt (Mark Ruffalo) in a zillion years, and he's days away from his wedding.
And Jenny still is thinking at the level of a thirteen year old girl. It would be enough of a change to give anyone a breakdown but (there's still an hour of film to fill when it happens so...) Jenny manages to bluff her way through her job and all of her co-workers and friends assume that she's still (aka always) hung over from partying too hard the night before. Her only touchstone in this awful world is Matt, who she tracks down only to discover that he couldn't care less.
Here's the hard part, folks. Does a screenwriter write for the grownups and work extra hard to make sure the teens can follow along, or does he/she/they write for the teen, making sure that the parents aren't going to object? You can gather by what we wrote in the first 'graph that the latter choice is the path taken. We can't report on the size of that demographic target. We can only remark that, based on what was of interest to us when we were a thirteen year old boy, there's nothing in 13 Going on 30 that would keep our attention. . . except for the casting of Andy Serkis as Jenny's "flamboyant" boss. The character isn't exceptional. It's just nice to see what the actor who's spent the last three years as the CG construct Gollum (in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) looks like.
Jennifer Garner does her best to try to keep the thirteen year old girl onscreen as the story rolls along. The screenplay doesn't do a heck of a lot to give her a hand. It tosses in a scene that may be of interest to girls in the audience. It tosses a scene in for the parents sitting in the back row. And, given the amount of time it takes to put a movie together, it is caught like a deer in the headlights since one major production number involves the cast dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Remembering that we're too old for this -- On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to 13 Going On 30, he would have paid . . .
13 Going On 30 is a terrible movie for us old folk. We've asked our niece to comment after she sees it because only a young teen is going to get anything out of this thing. It is demographically targeted up the wazoo and we're not part of that wazoo.
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