The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Column | ‘13 Going on 30’ goes on 20

Photo Courtesy of IMDb
Jennifer Garner plays Jenna Rink in the 2004 film “13 Going on 30,” directed by Gary Winick.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the beloved romantic comedy “13 Going on 30.” From pop music video references to a still-tight-knit cast, it’s safe to say that the movie has stood the test of time.

“13 Going on 30” tells the story of 13-year-old Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen), who struggles with navigating the toxicity of high school cliques and pervasive beauty standards.  

Jenna wishes she was “30, flirty and thriving,” as an article in one of her venerated “Poise” fashion magazines touts. After a disastrous birthday party, a dash of stray wishing dust makes her dream a reality when she wakes up the next morning as her 30-year-old self (Jennifer Garner).

It is difficult to remain memorable within the rom-com genre, a category of film that can be scoffed at as uninspired. Yet, “13 Going on 30” steers clear of that common fate, not by distinguishing itself from its roots but by leaning into them.

The movie executes every trope to perfection. It features quirky yet loveable characters, with Mark Ruffalo in the role of awkwardly endearing love interest Matt Flamhaff and Judy Greer as backstabbing mean girl Lucy Wyman. Plenty of iconic outfits and a danceable ‘80s soundtrack complement each scene.

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Garner assumes the role of a 13-year-old girl fumbling around in a 30-year-old woman’s body as though she acts from experience, nailing the childlike wonder and slapstick comedy that arises from the absurdity of the situation.

Opposite her, Ruffalo plays the scruffy and charming boy-next-door type perfectly, while Greer delivers every venomous one-liner with a ravishing bite.

Of course, a movie like “13 Going on 30” comes with a host of interesting facts. For one, young Ashley Benson (best known as Hanna from “Pretty Little Liars”) and Brie Larson (currently playing Captain Marvel in the Marvel cinematic universe) play parts in the Six Chicks, the popular girls that humiliate 13-year-old Jenna.

Unlike the movie’s adherence to the rom-com rulebook, “13 Going on 30’s” behind the scenes were not as established. The film was Director Gary Winick’s first mainstream project, as well as a significant step up in the acting careers of Garner, Ruffalo and Greer.

During the shooting of the iconic “Thriller” dance break, Ruffalo, who was yet to grow accustomed to being an on-screen heartthrob, nearly quit the movie altogether.

Nevertheless, “13 Going on 30” maintains a fond place in the hearts of cast, crew and audience members alike, and it’s easy to understand why.  

When you let the movie’s more profound scenes peak through its rom-com lightheartedness, it transcends the tropes that it leans so hard into. Like when Jenna retreats to her childhood home, seeking solace from her sudden adulthood in a parental embrace, or when she dances to “Love is a Battlefield” by Pat Benatar with the girls from her apartment during a slumber party. These scenes underscore the importance of being a kid and making mistakes.

Over the 20 years since its conception, the film has matured with its viewers. During your first watch at 13, you might overlook its message and still secretly hope Jenna’s birthday plea comes true for you too. But at 30, well-earned hindsight and wisdom might allow you to appreciate your youthful blunders as essential in forming who you’ve become.

“13 Going on 30” will hardly be remembered as technically brilliant or thematically outstanding. However, it has earned its place as a hallmark of feel-good movies.


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