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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 13 Going on 30 is a sweet romantic comedy starring Jennifer Garner that will appeal to a wide range of viewers. Messages about popularity, compassion, personal values, and having integrity/being true to yourself are delivered with insight and humor. Because the story places a 13-year-old girl in the body of a 30-year-old, the main character's reaction to sexual situations is exaggerated and meant to be funny: There's "boob" talk, the beginnings of a striptease, a married man making a pass, mistaking sexual games for childhood board games, and the advent of a naked man (no actual nudity). Characters flirt, kiss, wear some revealing clothes, and use mild profanity and sexual language ("jump your bones," "bitch," "hell"). There's some drinking (the lead enjoys that part of being a grown-up); marijuana and mind-altering drugs are briefly mentioned.
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What's the story?
A girl who suffers total humiliation at her 13th birthday party wishes she could be 30. The next morning, she's all grown up (and played by Jennifer Garner), living in a swanky Manhattan apartment with a gorgeous face and figure. That part is pretty exciting. But the guy in the shower who seems to know her pretty well is pretty scary. And she can't find her parents. Jenna races out of the building, and a woman who seems to know her tells her to get into a limo and is talking a mile a minute about some job she seems to have as editor of Poise magazine. Jenna will eventually realize that this is what she wished for, but she'll also figure out that it wasn't really what she wanted. She tracks down her very best childhood friend, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), who's now a photographer. When he tells her he hasn't seen her since high school, she begins to understand that in order to become what she wished for, she's lost some of the things that mattered most.
Is it any good?
This romcom offers some bright moments and nicely understated humor, despite all the expected collisions between the lives of the 13- and 30-year-old characters/instincts. Jenna raises her hand to be called on in a meeting, for instance, and responds "ew, gross!" to her boyfriend's advances. Ruffalo, as always, adds class and sweetness to the boyfriend role and has impressive delicacy in providing romantic interest for someone who is, after all, emotionally just 13 years old.
But what makes 13 Going on 30 work is Garner, who's enormously touching and hilarious as the 13-year-old living in the body and life of a 30-year-old. Playing a child in an adult body gives her license to show every emotion without any pretense of sophistication. She's wonderfully open and vulnerable, but she handles it lightly and with a lot of charm. And she captures it all perfectly, from Jenna's panic at not understanding what's going on to her rapture as she selects clothes and makeup for her grown-up self as though dressing a Barbie. Garner even gets the walk of a 13-year-old just right, from the shoulders, not the hips. And the look on her face as she does the dance to "Thriller" is so winning you won't just smile with her; you might just start to dance along a little.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the reality of being a grown-up is different than it appears to a child. What was the biggest surprise for Jenna in 13 Going on 30? How are mature topics like drinking and sex addressed?
Talk about the way middle-schoolers treat one another -- and how to make sure that you don't grow up with the kind of regrets that Jenna does. Is/was there a popular clique in your school?
Can you think of other movies that have a similar plot device?
- In theaters: April 23, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: August 3, 2004
- Cast: Jennifer Garner, Judy Greer, Mark Ruffalo
- Director: Gary Winick
- Studio: Columbia Tristar
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Integrity
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sexual content and brief drug references
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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