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13 GOING ON 30 (article first published : 2004-09-14)

Sweet and good-natured, this is an above-average romantic comedy which, however contrived and however much inspired by such successes as Big and Freaky Friday, remains engaging and charming. It's the story of young Jenna Rink (Christa B Allen), who craves to be popular, dreams of dating the school hunk and waves aside a comment from her longtime pal and neighbour, chubby Matt (Jack Salvatore jun), that originality is much better than being trendy.

Then in 1987, when she turns 13, Jenna wishes she was older after being humiliated at her birthday party. A sprinkling of fairy dust and she suddenly opens her eyes the next day to find she's in the future body of her 30-year-old self (Jennifer Garner, of Alias and Daredevil fame). Jenna also finds she has a hunky hockey-star boyfriend, lives well in contemporary New York and is the editor of her longtime favourite magazine. There she is pals with Lucy (Judy Greer), the adult version of a former school colleague, a vain and nasty Miss Popularity whose friendship she once craved.

On the downside, neither Matt nor her parents have anything more to do with Jenna. So, confused and frightened, she sets out to find Matt to find out what has happened in the past 17 years. She also wants to figure out why she has earned the reputation of being a mean, bitchy boss. It then becomes obvious that to become the nice girl she really is, Jenna must try to undo her childhood mistake. And, in the process, not unexpectedly, she falls for Matt, who, however, is engaged to be married.

Directed by Gary Winick, who gave us Tadpole, the film features a sparkling performance from the gorgeous Garner and it's fun seeing Andy Serkis, best known for providing the movements and voice for the computerised Golum in the Lord of the Rings films, as Jenna's editor-in-chief. And extra points must be given for two amusing dance sequences - one set to Michael Jackson's Thriller, the other to Pat Benatar's Love Is a Battlefied.

Deductions, however, are necessary for the many missed opportunities from having a girl from the 80s thrust into the technologically advanced, post-9/11 new millennium. The only token fun in this area comes from Jenna not knowing what a cellphone ring is or how to operate the phone.

The ending becomes a bit schmaltzy and too cosily predictable and infuriating, considering a far better ending occurs a few minutes before the end credits - but there is sufficient good fun to be had here to make for money well spent on a cinema ticket. - Billy Suter




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