The International Writers Magazine:DVD Review
Going On 30
Directed by Gary Winick
Garner is an actress Ive seen alot of, publicity-wise, but
the only other thing Id ever seen her in was the mediocre
comic book film Daredevil, with her now husband Ben Affleck.
There she was merely leather-clad eye candy. In 13 Going On 30
she proves she can act, and has a winsome Julia Roberts-like star
But, the real find
of the film is the performance of indie film actor Mark Ruffalo, as
Garners love interest. The film is a romantic comedy that works,
and very well, mainly because of a very smartly written script by Cathy
Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, excellent acting, and good direction by Gary
Winick (known for the indie film Tadpole). The most famous films in
the body switch subgenre of romantic comedies are Tom Hanks
1980s hit Big, and the old and new versions of Freaky Friday.
Yet, this film is superior in every way to those, because of the above
The film opens with a young Jenna Rink (Christa Allen) getting humiliated
at her 13th birthday party, in 1987, by a clique of mean girls, taking
out her frustrations on her best friend, and next door neighbor Matt
Flamhaff (Sean Marquette). He has brought her a pink dream house
he made by hand, for her Barbie dolls, and sprinkled it with wishing
dust. As she whines that she wants to be thirty, flirty
and thriving- a line from her favorite magazine, Poise, young
Jenna is sprinkled with some of the wishing dust and wakes seventeen
years later, Rip Van Winkle style, as Jennifer Garner, a sexy thirty
year old magazine editor of the magazine she loved as a kid, Poise.
The head of the clique of girls that humiliated her is now her best
friend, and Jenna has an airhead New York Rangers hockey player (Sam
Ball) as a beau, is a tyrant at work, and sleeps around. Of course,
we learn this slowly through the film, as she is oblivious to it, and
is her own thirteen year old self. This helps her rediscover her roots,
which include a grown Matt, played by Ruffalo.
Over the course of events there are some delightful scenes of Garner
and Ruffalo together, falling in love, even though he has a fiancé
who lives in Chicago. She hires him to help her redesign the faltering
magazine, even though we later learn she was, before her rediscovery
of her thirteen year old self, the corporate spy for a rival magazine.
Her friend, and former and still rival, Lucy (Judy Greer), perfect as
a bitch with motives we can understand, is also competing with a redesign
of her own. Jenna wins, but Lucy finds our Jenna was the spy and doublecrosses
both her and the magazine, which folds. Jenna then tries to make it
to Matts wedding, in time honored tradition, to stop it. They
profess their love for each other, but, in a display of excellent writing,
Matt does not go off with Jenna. He is too mature, and too much has
passed between them. But, he gives Jenna the dream house, which he kept,
after Jenna rejected it, all those years ago, when she ended their friendship
after she blamed him for the cool crowds abandonment.
Jenna takes it outside, and without any words we see some real depth
and complexity, as a breeze blows some remanent wishing dust on the
older Jenna, and shes back in the closet, moments before we last
left her, as a thirteen year old. This time, when Matt opens the closet
door shes glad to see him, and pounces upon him with a kiss. Cut
to years later, at approximately the same time as the dream sequence,
and Matt and Jenna are now getting married, as the film fades out as
they move into a real life pink dream house. This is a nice twist, and
slides nicely between the happy ending of romantic comedies, and the
its was all a dream end of many works of fiction.
That were not really sure which is the dream and which is the
reality also works well.
This is, by its genre, not a film that should provoke such deep questions
as, has Jenna really traveled through time or is she suffering a nervous
breakdown that makes her unable to remember anything that happened after
her thirteenth birthday?, or, is the film a momentary dream or psychological
mystery? Yet, it has depths, conveyed by Ruffalos appealing realism.
He never quite buys Jennas deal, and neither do the other collection
of characters. Garners Jenna also has many realistic moments with
such characters as her mother, especially when she goes home and her
mom (Kathy Baker) makes her pancakes smiley faces. Any confused adult
goes to the place where theyre always treated as a child. Others
occur with her father (Phil Reeves), her boss (Andy Serkis - Gollum
from The Lord Of The Rings trilogy), and assistant (Marcia DeBonis)
at the magazine. Most of all, there are little moments between Ruffalo
and Garner that are priceless, and convey the sense that these two characters,
separated for years, still have an abiding connection. Their glances
and body language act far better than most actors could do with a Shakespearean
level script. Even their younger versions have a romantic chemistry.
Christa Allens Jenna looks like a younger, more awkward Jennifer
Garner - one of those girls who is not popular but will become a goddess,
and Matt is not a real geek, just a kid who knows himself well enough
not to care what the cool kids think, despite their calling him Beaver.
We later find out that the older version of Tom -Tom (Alexandra Kyle),
her tormentor-cum-pal Lucy, is the insecure one- who had a nose job.
Jenna is somewhere in between, as she tells Matt, I dont
want to be original, I want to be cool. All the kids are so well
cast and act so well that a whole film could have been made about them-
they are far more believable than many kids in serious films.
The film score is a bit odd, with 80s songs from the early 80s, not
the 1987 the film claims, such as Head Over Heels, Burnin Down
the House, Thriller, Crazy For You, Love Is A Battlefield, and
Jessies Girl, by Rick Springfield, a one hit wonder from 1981
that Jenna has the hots for, even though six years is an eternity to
a thirteen year old. But some of the idiotic things that occur at the
office, while seemingly over-the-top to those whove not worked
such jobs, are very real. The script is far better than many serious
Sundance artsy films, yet these sorts of film rarely get recognition
because of their light status- as if comedy is easy to do
well. The fact that it undermines many of the clichés of the
genre (such as Jennas realizations of her true older character)
has not gone noticed in many published reviews, and thats a shame,
because its very deftly written. This film definitely elevates
the genre, as the commentary by Winick hopes.
The DVD features are two commentaries: director Winicks
excellent one, light on fellatio and high on scene and film explanation,
and one by three female producers, very high on fellatio. Theres
a making of video, trailers, a piece on how the main adult actors were
as kids, and two music videos: Pate Benatars Love Is A Battlefield,
and Rick Springfields Jessies Girl.
I very much recommend this film, and think that in fifty years it will
be seen as a classic of its kind, much like Its A Wonderful
Life has become, even though it was critically brutalized upon its
release. It will also be noted that this film was the one that officially
launched Garner on her way to film stardom. She can do action, comedy,
and drama, and all better than the other starlets of the day, for shes
a better actor than most, and has that girl next door appeal that makes
her a goddess that Joe Average (think Ruffalos looks) can realistically
believe hed get. Thats something in itself, and not to be
underestimated in filmic appeal.
© Dan Schneider November 2005
Poetry and Soul
See also Coffee and Cigarettes
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