You have to agree with Maurice Chevalier when he sang, "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and the bit about them growing up in the most delightful ways. While he was obviously singing about women in general as well as the title figure in "Gigi," his lyric could also apply to Jenna Rink when she evolves from Christa Allen to Jennifer Garner in "13 Going on 30."
That's not to imply that Allen isn't attractive for her age or that there's anything wrong with her. Instead, it's that Garner is so gorgeous and enthusiastically buoyant in the role that she alone makes the film quite easy to watch. From a comedy standpoint, of course, it doesn't hurt that she's playing a 13-year-old in a 30-year-old's body who suddenly finds herself 17 years in the future.
Although that may make the film sound as if it's a possession-based horror flick or some sort of sci-fi effort, it's actually a body-switching comedy along the lines of "Like Father, Like Son" and "Vice Versa" from the 1980s. To be more accurate, it's more than a bit like "Big," the 1988 comedy where Tom Hanks turned from yet another 13-year-old into a 30-year-old overnight, all thanks to a mysterious fortune telling machine.
In this film -- penned by Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa ("What Women Want") and directed by Gary Winick ("Tadpole," "The Tic Code") -- it's just a small packet of wishing dust and a young teen's desire to be an adult that does the trick. To the film's credit, and this reviewer's relief, the script doesn't retread "Big's" plot note for note, although that isn't meant to imply any sort of underlying originality.
Instead, it puts enough of a spin on the familiar material to make it work, at least for part of the time. For starters, there's the obvious gender switch. The bigger change, however, is in moving the story forward seventeen years, ranging from when Michael Jackson was indeed the king of pop to an era where he's more of a sideshow than recording force, and having the kid suddenly inside the adult version of herself who's lived through those intervening years.
By doing so, the filmmakers have concocted a dual fish out of water scenario. Not only must Jenna deal with being a gangly teen inside an adult woman's body, but she's also in a temporally different world where weird ringing things known as cell phones now exist.
For a while, both angles offer some fun and funny material and moments. Much of that, however, has to be credited to Garner ("Daredevil," "Catch Me If You Can") who's obviously game for most anything and is a blast to watch in the role. While she might not be up there with Hanks in the similar vein -- mostly due to the script that lets both her and us down in the second half -- she's nevertheless convincing, charming and radiant in the part.
The biggest problem, beyond the story eventually pretty much stopping having her behaving like a 13-year-old, is that her character's goal isn't as strong as Hanks in that other film. Sure, she has to revamp her magazine (in a bit that doesn't really work that well and is actually harder to believe than the "body switch"). And she tries to get her now grown-up childhood friend -- played by the amiable Mark Ruffalo ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "In the Cut) -- to like her again.
While the latter provides a romantic comedy angle to the proceedings, neither that nor the magazine material drives the film as much as needed. As a result, the overall effort starts to flounder a bit, although there are some fun moments to be had, such as when Jenna the adult bonds over girl issues with a bunch of early teens.
It doesn't help when the film races toward its inevitable and predictable conclusion. Or that Judy Greer ("The Wedding Planner," "What Women Want") plays the obligatory villain who suddenly and inexplicably turns into an adult version of her mean childhood self, apparently just to add some complications to the mix.
None of which means the film is bad. It's just that the film is such an unexpected delight in much of the first half that the partial collapse in the second is all the more disappointing. Despite that and the overriding lack of originality, the filmmakers nevertheless manage to add enough charming and amusing to hilarious touches to compensate for the low or dull points. The result is that "13 Going on 30" rates as a 6 out of 10.