In 13 Going on 30, women are allowed happiness, but only if they choose the right man. This unofficial remake of Penny Marshall’s Big shares more in common with the equally time-sensitive How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Thirteen-year-old Jenna Rink is a major brown-noser, and when she invites the mean girls at her school to a lame basement party, they diss her and she disses her chubby friend Matt in return. Jenna wishes she could be 30, and a Cosmo Girl is subsequently born from the ashes of a failed game of Seven Minutes in Heaven. Since every Hollywood dog needs a gimmick, 13 Going on 30‘s shtick is that Jenna (Jennifer Garner) can’t remember the last 17 years of her life, namely getting a job at a Condé Nasty rag called Poise (in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Kate Hudon got to work at Composure), ostensibly because modern women are always trying to figure out new ways to keep their bearings (even when trying to give a blowjob).
Jenna’s amnesia allows her to reconnect with a grown-up Matt (Mark Ruffalo) and decipher everything that happened in the last two decades, and to the filmmakers’ credit, they keep Jenna’s sexual encounters with the men in the film as un-squeamish as possible. Jenna may look 30 but she’s barely legal inside, and when she’s repeatedly confronted with wagging male “thingies,” she’s dutifully horrified. Garner naturally has to play it young for the duration of the film and her performance is effervescent without ever being cloying. (Her “Thriller” dance routine is outstanding, even if everyone’s call to the dance floor is not.) Of course, the same can’t be said about the film. When 13 Going on 30 isn’t happily playing off Jenna’s body-horror for laughs, it aims its contempt not only at the women’s magazine industry but a moment in time when an understandably self-conscious young Jenna made a simple adolescent mistake.
The contradictory 13 Going on 30 is critical of the backstabbing antics at women’s rags, but these kinds of films (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Maid in Manhattan) are setting a dangerous trend by simultaneously extolling the very thing it pretends to revile: Privilege. Call it the Page Six film. If you’re a woman in New York, you can find power and validation by cultivating an unnatural obsession with celebrity and self-image, and in the process set the feminist movement back. Would a Cosmopolitan-style magazine that trades in how-to-fellate-style advice ever call itself Poise? It’s a vision of propriety and wholesomeness that Jenna suggests for Poise’s redesign (remember: she’s 13), and though it’s a yearbook-style idea that would fall flat during a typical magazine pitch meeting, it does befit the name of the magazine. So, Jenna brings poise to Poise and simultaneously restores the order of the universe. Finally!
But wait. Notice how 13 Going on 30 reductively shames its main character into following the “right” path. The logic here is that Cosmo Girls aren’t born but nurtured, and as such there wouldn’t be a Vogue today had Anna Wintour just fucked the class nerd instead of the captain of the football team. Not since Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa’s last work of tunnel vision, What Women Want, has a film given women so little to choose from: Mel Gibson is the ideal man and the editor-in-chief position at Cosmopolitan is your glass ceiling. This is a film about lying and cheating at naughty women’s magazines that trivializes behavioral cause-and-effect and looks like a splashy Cosmo spread in the process. For sure, this is a film for Cosmo Girls by Cosmo Girls. It advises: This is where you went wrong, but since you can’t go back in time to do things over again, it’s too late for you. Now, can you tell me 30 ways to have an orgasm?