Summary: In 13 Going on 30, Jennifer Garner stars as a 13 year old girl who makes a wish to become 30 and discovers that her true love was right in front of her all along. We discover that the sparkly “Wish Powder” that came at the bottom of cracker jack boxes had ACTUAL magic in the 80s! Damn you child safety laws.
Verdict: Meh. It’s not nearly as bad as some other romcoms, but it’s hurt by the wedding day love confession plus the unrealistic portrayal of an insecure 13 year old succeeding in a thoroughly adult world.
Full Recap: Our movie opens with 13 year old Jenna. We immediately see that she is insecure, a little awkward, and desperate to be in the “popular crowd.” Her opportunity comes when she throws a birthday party and invites the most popular girls in school.
Jenna’s best friend is Matt, a chubby boy who’s REALLY into photography. All we know about him at this point is that he has a camera around his neck all the time and is totally in love with Jenna. Jenna is oblivious to this fact since she really wants to be with the Chris, the “hottest” guy in school. Chris looks like he should be 17 and driving, so maybe Chris isn’t the brightest crayon in the box and was held back a lot.
Party day arrives, and, after Jenna prepares with some awesome 80s music, bra padding, and complaining about not being 30, Matt presents his gift: a homemade Barbie dream house complete with paper-Jenna ensconced in a bubble bath and paper-Matt (though thankfully not also in the bath).
Matt then takes a packet of “Magic Wish Dust” out of his pocket and sprinkles it over the house.
Once the popular girls and Chris arrive, Jenna insults Matt to fit in. He leaves, at which point the girls blindfold Jenna and tell her to wait in the closet for Chris to come and “do whatever he wants to her.” Predictably, once Jenna is in the closet, all the other guests leave her there, telling Matt that Jenna’s waiting for him.
Matt goes into the closet and is hurt when Jenna says Chris’ name. She is hurt when she realizes that everyone ditched her. Jenna tells Matt she hates him, slams the door on his face, then bangs her head against the shelves repeating the words “30 and flirty and thriving.” Magic dust falls off of the “Barbie” dream house and grants her wish, turning her into Jennifer Garner.
When Jenna wakes up, she finds a man coming out of her shower calling her “sweet bottom” (the worst nickname EVER) and the head popular girl waiting for her outside to take her to work. Jenna discovers that she now works at Poise magazine, which is in crisis because someone is leaking all their ideas to a rival magazine.
There are some early hints that 30 year old Jenna is not a nice person, but 13 year old Jenna is having too much fun being an adult to worry about that just yet. Instead, she goes to find 30 year old Matt, who is pretty meh about seeing her. Turns out, they haven’t talked to each other in years. Nevertheless, Matt helps her figure out what happened between 13 and 30, when she lead the popular group in high school, was the prom queen, and dated Chris the Stupid.
Moving on from this, Jenna gets dressed up in her best 80s pre-teen outfit to go to a party for Poise, but when she gets there, it’s a dud. Her boss, Richard (played by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame), begs her to save it, so she starts a party-wide dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. She first initiates this by dragging a very reluctant Matt to the dance floor, but, never fear, everyone shortly joins in. This coordinated dance scene is one of the best parts of this movie.
However, we wonder how a 13 year old girl coming off a huge humiliation would get up the courage to start a dance alone in a room full of strange adults. It would have been nice to see a hint of Jenna hesitating before going full-blown “Thriller”.
After Jenna’s triumphant dance party, we see Jenna and her best friend Lucy at a bar. Lucy tells her that there’s a guy behind her who’s checking her out. But when Jenna goes to talk to said guy, she blows right past the adult man and goes to the 13 year old boy sitting at a table (unaccompanied I might add).
Adult Jenna and the pre-teen boy flirt a bit and almost make a date before Lucy drags her away. This doesn’t even make sense in the context of the movie; Jenna knows she appears to be 30 and presumably knows that 30 year olds do not date 13 year olds. It’s all very bizarre and one of those scenes that probably would never have made the final cut if it had been an adult man with a pre-teen girl. Hooray double standards!
Outside the bar, the girls run into Jenna’s professional hockey player boyfriend and Matt with his fiance. There’s awkward tension as Jenna looks upset that Matt is engaged and Matt’s fiance assumes he moving to Chicago with her when that’s clearly not what he wants. Then, Jenna goes back to her boyfriend’s place to “play games” as Lucy says in her most suggestive voice possible.
The next scene is incredibly awkward as Jenna asks if her boyfriend has Battleship and calls the red board while the boyfriend thinks she’s making up really, really strange innuendos. Apparently “red board” is their codeword for “awkward striptease to ‘Ice Ice Baby.'”
Jenna books it out of there pretty fast (thank goodness), then we’re back at Poise and Jenna has a dangerous new hairstyle.
Richard tells them that the magazine is going to undergo a redesign, and he wants proposals from Jenna and Lucy. Jenna is psyched about this, but as she leaves the meeting she’s quickly confronted with how awful she is. First, her assistant reads her a string of angry messages, then she finds out she was having an affair with a coworker’s husband, and finally she hears that Lucy is going to backstab her.
Jenna goes to Matt, who tells her how she threw the dream house at him at her 13th birthday party and then never talked to him again. Sidenote: we like that Matt calls the “Seven Minutes in Heaven” game “Spin the Rapist.” Considering that Jenna was supposed to sit in there, blindfolded, and let Chris do “whatever he wants to her,” we think Matt’s description is closer to the truth.
Anyway, Jenna is even more upset when she hears how mean she was to Matt. She decides to go back home to her parents to be comforted.
While there, she has the brilliant idea to have Matt help her with the magazine redesign, inspired by her high school yearbook. When Jenna comes back to Poise, she is brimming with renewed confidence, enough to give a snarky comeback to Lucy.
Cue montage of Matt and Jenna doing photoshoots in a yearbook style. Everything is very cutesy, complete with balloons and adorable dogs. Of course, after a long night of editing, Matt and Jenna end up taking a walk down memory lane and then kissing. To his credit, Matt seems upset about this rather than giddy. Also, Jenna seems to magically be competent at this whole kissing business even though she is only 13 and never been kissed.
Jenna goes home and relates all of this to her new friends, who are all teenage girls squeeing about Jenna’s goosebumps from her first kiss. Then, dance break for the second time in this movie.
The next day, Lucy presents her idea for a redesign, based all around “heroin chic” and “fashion suicide.” It’s really bad and Richard nixes it. Jenna then presents a redesign idea based around using real women, our neighbors and friends. It’s really vague but touchy-feely so of course Richard loves it. Personally, we think he only loves it since the other idea was essentially “a magazine about death.” Because no fashion magazine is going to think “Right! High school yearbooks! EXACTLY what readership loves! Not fashion or any of that shit.”
The rival magazine loves it too, as we find out when Lucy gives them all Jenna’s ideas and gets Matt to sign a release by telling him…they’d use the photos in a catalogue?
This is one of those tropes that happen in romcoms: one of the people in the main couple believes the antagonist’s lies for some reason without talking to the other person in the couple. Instead of having a logical conversation about what happened with the pictures, Jenna has to run to Matt’s wedding (fleeing a cab and sprinting in heels in the process). She finds him putting his tux on, his fiance in the next room blissfully unaware of what’s going on.
Surprisingly, though, this wedding day love confession is not quite as anger-inducing as usual. This is probably because Matt makes the more logical choice by picking the woman he asked to marry him over the woman who dropped back into his life a few days ago. As a consolation prize, he gives Jenna the barbie dream house he made for her for her 13th birthday.
So Jenna is sad (the music tells us so), and she sits on Matt’s front stoop with the dream house, wishing she was 13 and could do it all over again. The wind picks up some magic dust off the roof and magically Jenna is back at her 13th birthday party with the blindfold on.
Jenna immediately kisses Matt, and the next thing we see is 30 year old Jenna and Matt leaving Matt’s house after their wedding. The two move into a new (very, very pink) house, sit on a couch in the yard, and eat Razzles (and live happily ever after, of course).
The only question we had at the end is: do either of them still have jobs?
We are not romantics.