Friday, May 28, 2004

13 Going On 30

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 May 2004 at AMC Fenway #5 (first-run)

I am trying not to be hypocritical here, for I know that I have on a number of occasions called people unreasonable for running down a movie (or other form of entertainment) for not being what they thought it should be, as opposed to recognizing what it is. That said, I couldn't help but wonder, as I watched 13 Going On 30, what an interesting story it would be if, instead of being a story about a 13-year-old girl who magically became her older self, it was a story about a 30-year-old woman who suffers some sort of breakdown and regresses to her more innocent self. Up until the end, it almost could be that, although there's really no reason to assume that the movie is close to being that clever.

Still, that does bring up a weird an uncomfortable question - when Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) seeks out her childhood best friend Matt (Mark Ruffalo) and spills the beans about how she just seems to have skipped over seventeen years of her life, why is his immediate reaction not something along the lines of "this girl is mentally ill"? The same when she starts having slumber parties with her neighbors' kids. I get that she doesn't really have any close friends who would worry about her personality basically suddenly reversing itself, and that her boyfriend is too self-centered to really care beyond his not getting any. Still, it demonstrates the limits of suspension of disbelief: I will accept that something clearly impossible, like a 13-year-old girl waking up 30 because of some magic wishing powder, without question, but will have difficulty when characters don't react to the fantasy elements in a believable way. Sprinkle in a few plot holes, bland characters, and a good deal of uncomfortable but not really sharp humor, and the movie has to get by on charm alone.

Admittedly, it has charm in spades; it's very tough to come up short in that category with Garner and Ruffalo front and center. The latter brings his usual scruffy sensitivity, while Garner is this close to winning the Eddie Murphy-in-The Nutty Professor Award for a great performance in a bad movie. One scene showing the adult Jenna for contrast to the childlike one probably would have cinched it. I'm not altogether certain I completely believe the way she plays her mentally-thirteen-year-old character, since thirteen year-olds seem awfully sophisticated today (compare 13 Going On 30 with last year's Thirteen), at least on the surface, but, hey, I was thirteen in 1987 and figure most of the people I knew were more kid than adult, so maybe it really is "those kids today". Still, Garner's performance seems much more childish than that of Christa B. Allen, the actual kid who plays Jenna at 13 (and an amazingly good likeness for Ms. Garner). Sadly, most of the rest of the cast is pretty awful.

I will give director Gary Winick some credit; he manages a couple good scenes toward the end, including one of the best 15-year-cuts in recent memory. He also seems to really be enjoying shooting in 35mm with bold colors - watching many of the films from his InDigEnt production company (including his awful Sam The Man) can be a painful experience; I've grumbled about his murky, digital-video productions before. But the script gives him and the actors very little to make a good movie with, and in the end what's worth watching is basically what the two stars bring to the movie, and not the movie itself.

No comments: