If 13 Going On 30 had feet, they'd never touch the ground. The effervescent retro romance opens with the jingly strokes of an '80s pop synthesizer and races through the best of Rick Springfield ("Jesse's Girl"), Michael Jackson ("Thriller"), and The Go-Go's ("Head Over Heels") in five minutes flat. Either you're tapping your feet right now or running for the hills. The toe-tappers, obviously, will have a better time at this one.
In 1987, gawky teen Jenna can't see the girl-next-door beauty that exists beyond her braces. She keeps best friend Matty - her pudgy and unbearably sweet admirer - at arm's length. After a major disappointment involving a rigged game of "Seven Minutes in Heaven" at her 13th birthday party, Jenna makes a fateful wish to be older. With the help of some potent fairy dust, 13-year-old Jenna becomes 30-year-old Jenna (Garner), a Manhattan magazine editor pushing copy for Poise, a struggling fashion rag.
Comparisons to Penny Marshall's adolescent fantasy Big are inevitable but misguided. 30 more closely resembles a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where one small decision can affect the story's ultimate outcome. Jenna's spontaneous wish actually alters her past, so when she seeks out and finds a grown-up Matty (Mark Ruffalo), his memories show how the two friends drifted apart after she opted for the popular crowd. Their troubles can be traced back to that fateful birthday party, which gives Jenna a reference point when she seeks to set things right.
30 solidifies the talented and charming Garner as a major Hollywood star. Alias fans are aware of the gangly but glamorous actress' physical ability, though they may be surprised at how casually she transitions over to physical comedy. Garner also manages a natural sweetness that sells Jenna's inherent adolescence, and her wide-mouthed grin wipes the grime off of the simplistic script.
Regardless of what they were paid, Garner and Ruffalo deserve a raise. These two never stop working to sell this saccharine-soaked material, and their efforts are aided by an enthusiastic Andy Serkis and nasty Judy Greer. Don't ask me how, but 30 rises above both a cast-wide "Thriller" dance sequence and an awkward gag where Jenna hits on a 12-year-old. Insert Wacko Jacko joke here.
Effortless and adorable, 30 is a lovable New York romance with the right amount of whimsy and magic. It made me smile through and through, even as obvious plot questions picked at my brain and unrealistic problems stacked up like cars on the interstate during rush hour. 30 might not stay with me longer than a week or two, but it certainly was fun while it lasted.
Might check for an extra shoulder pad while you're at it, Jen.