13 GOING ON 30 

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


            Director Gary Winick has taken a familiar formula and turned it into a fine surprise.  With two gifted performers on hand, he never lets the obvious become tedious.  Jennifer Garner’s willingness to look outdated, to seem silly as she looks for her true self is refreshingly risky.  Playing off Mark Ruffalo’s quiet confidence, the pair makes the movie a pleasure.  

The director and scriptwriters have targeted the grimly pervasive – well there’s at least one in every school – American bully in the person of Young Tom-Tom (Alexandra Kyle) who grows up to be the equally despicable Lucy (Judy Greer).  Both actresses nail the hardhearted meanness of bully the kid who morphs into bully the adult, striding through life trailed by a bunch of weakling copycats.  The tougher part of this lesson is that leopards do indeed keep their spots.

               Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen, later Jennifer Garner) is sunk in the middle of awkward adolescence.  For her 13th birthday, she pans a party that will include all the popular horrors of the class.  The nasty cools arrive with a carefully calculated plan to humiliate Jenna.  Just before they arrive, Jenna’s best friend Matt (Sean Marquette) arrives from next door with a present that will bring a tear to even the coldest eye in the audience.  When Matt is targeted to share Jenna’s humiliation, Jenna, still too vulnerable to transcend the social competition, ends their friendship forever.

           The fairy dust Matt sprinkled on his best friend begins its work the next morning when the awkward teenager wakes up as a 30-year old Manhattan sophisticate, editor of Poise Magazine, partner to Lucy, the childhood bully whose ranks she had joined.  She got exactly what she deserved: a genuine jerk jock for a boyfriend and a world full of empty people caught up in a social competition not unlike that of their childhood. 

           But Jenna’s road to happiness is still sprinkled with the magical dust of her early kindness.  Into her overnight adulthood she brought her awkward teenage self – the one who loved Matt and MTV and danced to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” in the privacy of her room.  She wonders what happened to the beautiful present he made for her.  She finds it; she finds him.  The sophisticate’s wrong turn is overwhelmed by her early decency.

           Both Ruffalo and Garner project so completely the stuff of real people that they are entirely believable as an adult pair looking for good values and good friends.  They know just when to say no because they’ve both been there.  In some quite unusual way, cast and crew have managed to deliver some big messages without preaching.  Don’t envy jerks.  Do right by your best friends.  Be yourself, and if you don’t like what you see, look deeper.  You’ll find the good in you that will carry you through life.  And dance as often as you can along the way.

 


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