Who does not like Big (1988), starring Tom Hanks? If you do not like it, it is probably because you have not seen it. I cannot say that I would blame you. Who watches movies from the 1980s anymore? I feel bad for films that came out before that decade. The reason I bring up this point is to illustrate the way Hollywood recycles plots. I could say that 13 Going on 30 (2004) is the female version of 1988 title just mentioned, but that would not be charitable. It also would not be entirely accurate. There are many similarities between the films when it comes to theme. I am willing to bet there is not one among us who did not, as a wee person, wish that they were older at some point. This desire is the lynchpin in each film. They differ in that Tom Hanks’ Josh Baskin becomes a man overnight, whereas Jennifer Garner’s Jenna Rink wakes up a few years in the future in the body of her thirty-year-old self. Still, the concept is the same. Does that make the newer version a bad movie? Not really. It is simply something I observed to whet your whistle.
The thirteen-year-old version of Jenna (Christa B. Allen) in 13 Going on 30 is not the “thirty, flirty, and thriving” adult she dreams of being as inspired by the magazines she reads. Instead, she is a slightly awkward middle school teenager trying to fit in. The eponymous birthday is nearing, and she hopes that the “Six Chicks,” led by popularity queen Alexandra Kyle (Lucy Wyman), will attend her party. They play her for the fool, as usual, pulling a prank on her. When she emerges, she attempts to blame it on her best friend, Matt Flamhaff (Sean Marquette), who is not well-liked at school, either. When the “Six Chicks” leave anyway, Jenna barricades herself in the closet where she had hidden a doll house Matt made for her, containing all of her favorite things. Amongst the decorations is a package of magic wishing dust. Bumping against the shelf containing the model dislodges it, falling on her head along with the aforementioned sparkly substance. Because she had been wishing to be thirty when this occurred, she comes to as an adult in an apartment. It takes her a minute to catch on to what is going on, and she panics when a man she takes for a stranger is found. This is her boyfriend, Alex Carlson (Samuel Ball), who she shoos out of the apartment with a broom. It is shortly thereafter that her best friend and assistant Alexandra (Judy Greer) arrives to take her to work. To Jenna’s surprise and delight, she is an editor for a lifestyle magazine called Poise. What is not so great is that Matt (Mark Ruffalo) and her are not on speaking terms. She finds his address, and tries to get him to believe her, but it is apparent that time has taken its toll on their friendship. He later reveals that in high school she not only joined the “Six Chicks,” but supplanted Alexandra as their leader, turning into a social maven with no time for geeks like Matt. This is not the only thing she discovers about herself. To Jenna, she is still thirteen. To everyone else, she is a mean thirty-year-old woman, ambitious, and not caring as to who she uses. Yet, this is the new/old/new Jenna (does that make sense?), and she is doing things as her teenaged self would do. The first evidence of this comes at a party thrown by the magazine meant to attract famous people and boost sales. With competitors cutting into their market share, the hope is that this soiree will turn around their fortunes. Things are looking bleak until Jenna requests that the DJ play “Thriller” by Michael Jackson, and she gets everyone to join the dance. This includes Matt, whom she had invited. It marks a departure from the way Jenna is supposed to behave in Alexandra’s eyes, and their friendship begins to sour. The next big moment for their company comes when the editor-in-chief, Richard Kneeland (Andy Serkis), calls for a redesign of the publication’s layout. For help with her design proposal, Jenna turns to Matt, who is a photographer, and engaged to someone else named Wendy (Lynn Collins). As for Alexandra, she does some digging on Jenna. Snooping around Jenna’s office reveals that she has an offer to go work for the competitor, Sparkle. Further twisting the knife, Alexandra steals Jenna’s design and sells it to Sparkle, agreeing to go to work for them. This leads to Poise being shut down. The debacle is made personal when Alexandra tells Matt that Jenna had decided not to use his photographs. The enormity of the perceived betrayal causes Matt to move up the planned wedding date to Wendy. The ceremony is to take place at Matt’s childhood home, which is next door to where Jenna lived. She makes it just before the event kicks off, and begs Matt to reconsider. Though he does not, he hands her the doll house he had given her all those years ago. Taking it back to her old home and sitting on the front steps, she notices that there is still some of the wish powder lodged inside. With a swirl, she reawakens as a thirteen-year-old. This time, she kisses Matt, which apparently changes the future. I say this because we close with a married Jenna and Matt moving into a house that looks like the model.
Remarkably, when talking about Big, I did not mention the theme it shares with 13 Going on 30, that of wanting to be older when you are younger. I have used this Bible verse in other reviews, but it is appropriate once more to return to 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” In looking at the thirteen-year-old Jenna trapped in the body of her thirty-year-old self, we see somebody who has the two states jumbled. Still, it is difficult to get a teenager, especially one who had been socially spurned as Jenna, to see the wisdom of letting children be children, and adults be adults. Young people always think they know better, particularly when they reach a certain age. It is a common developmental stage. No matter what age we reach, or want to reach, we will always be children in the eyes of God. How could we be otherwise when compared to His infinite wisdom? As such, what a blessing it is for Jenna to be given a glimpse of the adult life, and how her skewed desire for maturity at the wrong age led to her not turning out as the best person. There is a Dickensian quality to the story. And as with Charles Dickens (though he was not fond of Catholics), the film is meant to show the morality of enjoying things at the right time.
I am not sure that 13 Going on 30 is meant to be deep, though there are layers to it. It has some moments of objectionable material, but nothing out of the ordinary for its PG-13 rating. As odd as it might sound coming from a forty-two year old man, I would take it over a who host of movies I have seen.