The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘13 Going On 30’

This is an installment for a series on this blog where Joe Brown, Sports Editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle, and I have a back-and-forth review of a movie. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “13 Going on 30.”

The info:

The Movie: “13 Going On 30” (2004)

Starring: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer

Director: Gary Winick

Plot Summary: (From Netflix) She’s sick of being a geeky kid. Now she’s got her chance as a grown-up. This is gonna be … fun?

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64 percent

Our take:

Brown: I would like to come up with some grand reason for this week’s pick. But I’ll be honest: I just like watching you suffer, Froemming.

I know how much you hated “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” so I wanted to travel down the same road with “13 Going On 30,” starring future Marvel super heroes Elektra and The Incredible Hulk. But instead of action-packed fun, we got ourselves a fantasy rom-com.

So Froemming, was my sick sense of joy fulfilled in your viewing of this movie?

Froemming: All I had in my mind as I watched this was you and I in the Batman/Bane roles from “Dark Knight Rises,” with you telling me once the JOE-DOWN is in ashes, I will have your permission to die. But you haven’t broken me, yet.

And if I had one word to describe this movie, it would be “creepy.” I must have written that word down more than 100 times as I sat through the saddest time travel movie I have ever seen. And I’ve seen “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.”

Brown: The downfall of my plan is I have to watch these movies as well, and yeah, this one took some energy. So, let’s begin with a trip down the Hollywood teenage wonderland that every person ever (note: Not really) has gone through. And we meet Jenna, who is about to have her 13th birthday. Then we’re introduced to our catty clique, the Six Chicks, and our quirky best-friend-who’s-also-in-love-with-the-lead in Matt. I referred to Matt in my notes as fat teenage John Cusack, because I’m a terrible person.


Froemming: At first I was a little baffled, because it seemed like the characters were sporting modern clothing, but everything else kept saying this part of the movie was 1987. Then I realized that because hipsters love irony and bad taste, 80s clothing is still popular.

Brown: And because the Six Chicks, and their leader Lucy, are awful people, they only agree to come to Jenna’s birthday if she does their homework. So, she starts getting ready, she doesn’t think she looks cute enough and keeps saying she’d rather be “30, flirty and thriving.” As someone closing in on 30, wish for, I don’t know, early 20s instead?

Froemming: I actually wrote this down: I’m in my 30s. It’s not that great. I was so puzzled why a 13-year-old girl would be obsessed with the idea of being 30. I know the magazine she reads had a column on being 30, but that still wasn’t a believable premise.

Brown: Before the party really kicks off, Matt brings over his present: A hand-built dream house, complete with “Magic Wishing Dust” that he puts on the house. Hey dummy, that’s glitter. You wasted your money on fancy packaging.

But I will say this: The more we learned about Matt, the more I found myself loving him. At first he was quirky in an annoying way with his whole photography thing. But fat teenage John Cusack has heart and is clearly the most endearing human being in this movie.

Froemming: Because Matt accidentally bought PCP labeled as “Magic Wishing Dust,” it sets forth a whole big hallucination for Jenna. See, at the party, Lucy and the gang only wanted their homework that was written by Jenna. So, after stuffing her in a closet and stealing all the food (yes, this happens), and telling poor Matt that Jenna is waiting for him in the closet, Matt’s living hell for the next couple of decades begins.

Brown: Dude clearly has a crush on Jenna and she’s in the closet ready for “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” but she was hoping for the jock Chris to join her. Which raises a point: Chris and a couple of his buddies come to the party in varsity letterman jackets. Why are high-schoolers going to a 13-year-old party? I think this is the first time I wrote “Creepy” in my notes.

Froemming: Yup, that was my first of a long string of “creepy” references in my notes as well.

Anyway, Jenna is crushed and accidentally inhales that PCP from the dream house Matt built, while at the same time muttering about wanting to be 30. And, just like in the movie “Big,” Jenna’s dream of adulthood and paying bills comes true, because she wakes up in Manhattan in 2004 as Jennifer Garner. And the following scene had me stabbing at my notepad “creepy” at least 15 times.

13 going on 30

Brown: Oh, you mean the parts where Jenna keeps grabbing her chest because she realizes she has breasts? Or a guy is showering in her apartment and calling her pet names? Or how she shows up to work in a nighty? Or how she’s clearly going through an identity of crisis and NO ONE in her current life even bothers to find out what’s going on?

Where did the creepiness really set in for you, Froemming?

Froemming: The naked man calling her “sweet bottom.” Because, this is a 13-year-old girl in the body of a 30-year-old. The film tries its damndest to make you forget about that in parts, but I never forgot. It was disturbing. But a saving grace in this film is that Judy Greer (of “Arrested Development” and “Archer” fame) plays grown-up Lucy.

Brown: And she was pulling from her “Arrested Development” role so much that I was thinking she’d tell someone off by saying “Goodbye to these!”

As it turns out, Lucy and Jenna grew up to be “best friends” and they work at “Poise,” a fashion magazine together. This is where I got mad because I remembered a day when people actually read magazines over websites.

Froemming: Yup, and they seem to be able to make a very good living off of producing garbage. But, as we find out, a rival magazine is stealing their thunder.

Brown: And, in the 17 years between her 13th birthday and her current 30-year-old self, turns out Jenna turned into an awful person. She fired someone the day before, she abandoned her friendship with Matt and just became all-around scum. You see the self-loathing boiling over and I’ll be honest, Jennifer Garner portrays this pretty well. It’s believable coming from her.

Froemming: Of all my problems with the film, Garner is not one of them. She plays the role well, and is likable.

Now, we enter a whole other world of creepiness during the staff meeting at the magazine. Why? Because Jenna’s boss is played by Andy Serkis and it is very jarring seeing him in a non-CGI role. His normal appearance is way more disturbing than when he played Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings.”


But, to move this along, we have Jenna have her secretary find Matt, who is about to re-live his personal hell all over again when Jenna pops back into his life. I felt horrible for his character, nobody needs that kind of stress in life.

Brown: It turns out Matt has become a photographer who lives in Greenwich Village because of course every starving artist has to live in the Village thanks to the Beats and all.

And we see that Matt has grown up to become John Cusack Mark Ruffalo, who, again, was a good casting choice. He can play the artsy type well without being eccentric or annoying.

And early on, you see him really struggling to deal with Jenna re-entering his life, but he’s still a kind-hearted man so he begrudgingly helps her out because, again, she’s suffering from an identity crisis. Will someone get her professional help, please?!

Froemming: You know Matt is artsy because of the poster of David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” hangs on his wall. Which, if you have seen that movie, you might question someone for that piece of wall decoration.

And yeah, Matt is baffled by Jenna popping back into his life after decades of bitter rejection on her part. Because she is a terrible person. But, like you say, he doesn’t say “maybe we should get you to a doctor, you are acting like you might have a concussion or something.” Nope, he walks her back to her place and shows up later at a big magazine party she invited him to. I just kept writing: Stay away man, you’ve moved on, that’s Crazy Town right there, and you don’t want to be a part of that mess.

Brown: Well, Jenna kept rocking back and forth in the closet. Maybe she hit her head several times and has CTE? Probably not, but something in this movie needs to make sense somehow.

We can’t get to the magazine party without mentioning how Jenna shows up to the party dressed up more or less like a Spice Girl. I couldn’t take her going to a work party while dolled up like a mix of Sporty Spice and Baby Spice. Then I remembered she was 13 years old and I got weirded out.

Froemming: Again, I never once forgot her actual age here. So, despite glossing over the 90s, she dresses exactly like girls I knew in the mid 90s did. Maybe she was just ahead of the curve in 1987.

But the party is a real stinker. Nobody is having fun and people are leaving. So, because nobody notices Jenna is having mental issues much like how Wall Street brokers never noticed Patrick Bateman’s insanity in “American Psycho,” Jenna does her thing and starts dancing to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” thus, to paraphrase the singer Pink, got the party started.

Brown: Before I get into a personal anecdote about this scene, I have to mention one thing: Jenna is a slob and I hated her for it. You see her several times during the party throwing shrimp tails to the ground and dropping parts of her drink on guests. Hey, I get you’re 13 in a 30-year-old’s body, but 13 year olds have manners, you gross slob.

Now, when they break into “Thriller,” I immediately thought of a birthday party I went to where I was told explicitly by a lady named Mallory that people who learn dances to songs are weirdos and to never do that. And yet, I see a party being saved by the power of the “Thriller” dance. Which is it, folks?

Froemming: Mallory was an idiot. Everyone knows memorizing dance moves is a solid thing to do.

But the party is saved! And Richard Kneeland (creepy Serkis) is jazzed by Jenna’s new take on things. Again, nobody seems to care her personality did a complete 180.

Brown: I’m going to gloss over the striptease by Jenna’s New York Rangers boyfriend because it’s dumb and also SHE’S 13 (technically).

We also see Jenna befriending “fellow” teenagers throughout the movie and they think she’s deep because she quotes Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield.” Listen to a record once in a while, ladies. Jenna is not deep.

Froemming: She also hits on a little kid at a restaurant. That, that was just disturbing.

Brown: What was the creepy tally up to at this point?

Froemming: It had to be at a solid 30 times I had written it down at this part of the film. Even more after the strip tease to “Ice Ice Baby.” It soared to more than 50 then.

But we find out that Matt is engaged to an anchorperson in Chicago, and they are weeks away from marriage. And they still haven’t decided if they will live in New York or Chicago. That is something they should have figured out first.


Brown: Right? And all we know about Matt is he’s an artist/photographer. You can do that in Chicago, sir. It’s not like you’re moving to Omaha. You’re going from the biggest city in the United States to, what, the third biggest city in the United States?

Anyhow, Jenna has a freakout and decides to go home to see her parents. They just returned from a cruise because although Jenna is 30 (I’m as lost as our readers are with the age thing), she is 13 and therefore, her parents have to be on vacation like an 80s teen movie. And because she’s still in crisis (GET HELP), she ends up sleeping in her parents’ bed because she’s scared of thunder and lightning. *facepalm*

Froemming: Yup. And I should also mention that I don’t think we see the Ranger boyfriend again after the strip tease. He just disappeared like Marty McFly’s family in that photo in “Back to the Future.”

But there is trouble at the magazine. Not only is there a spy leaking ideas to the competition, that has lead to a drop in subscriptions. Hence, they need to redesign the magazine, which sounds like fun to me as a page designer, but sounds like hell to everyone else. Because they have to actually do some work now? I have no idea. And Jenna overhears Lucy trash-talking her and plotting to do her own redesign behind Jenna’s back.

Brown: Yeah… Lucy was a jerk in middle school, and of course she’s a jerk in her 30s. And while we’re rewinding time, Jenna’s redesign idea is to copy the old 80s yearbook style. With this idea, she gets the idea to hire the old photographer from the yearbook: Matt! And I wrote in my notes twice: What is the point of this photoshoot?

Froemming: Yup. I had no idea. They just took random photos of high-school seniors in Central Park. It really made not a lick of sense here. But, after a day of taking photos of people, Jenna and Matt hang out in a park, looking at one another’s tongues. This leads to the creepiest session of tonsil hockey on film. SHE IS 13! My notes soared passed the 100 mark for writing down “creepy.”

Brown: My bigger problem was this: Let’s take away that she’s “13” and just say she’s 30. This woman, over the course of the last 17 years, was a jerk to you. You’re about to throw that away for a woman you loved enough to propose to? A happy week or two doesn’t make up for years of torment from this person who, until recently, treated you as an afterthought. Have some respect for yourself, Matt.

Oh, and after this scene, Jenna tells her teenage friends about it. Then they have a Pat Benatar dance party because that is the trope of any bad 2000s chick flick.


Froemming:  If anything, Matt is diving head first down memory lane full of torment and sadness this whole movie. He also makes out with someone who is not his fiance, so he is a terrible person for that.

And we see Lucy put on her demonstration for the future of the magazine, which is a combination of heroin chic and the Nine Inch Nails “Closer” video. It amused me because at no point was Lucy remotely into that sort of style, yet she is apparently obsessed with 90s goth and models who look like they have been on a heroin bender.

Brown: Right? It was a little jarring to see Lucy all of a sudden become Mugatu from “Zoolander.”

Meanwhile, Jenna gives her wholesome pitch, hoping to have the magazine represent wholesomeness and a simpler time. Is this “Poise” or a Pepperidge Farm commercial? And of course, her pitch wins. I will be fair: I liked Jenna’s presentation better because she didn’t have terrible Nine Inch Nails-style music and PowerPoint.

A quick aside: Something that drives me nuts in this movie is that half of it is like a music video. There’s points where you can barely hear dialogue because they clearly paid money to get these song rights and they are going to make sure every penny is used.

Froemming: But Lucy is up to something. While she is digging through Jenna’s desk, she finds out Jenna was the leak to the competition. This happens right when Matt comes walking in, and she tricks him into signing the photos he shot over to her. She then presents it to the other magazine, thus stealing Jenna’s future job. I was sort of on-board with Lucy here. Jenna was the villain in that circumstance.

Brown: Jenna doesn’t realize what awaits her. She’s about to have a date with Matt. You hear a rumble of thunder in the distance because subtle foreshadowing and all. But evil Jenna has ruined things and Lucy is a jerk… just like she was 17 years ago!

So, because she doesn’t want Matt to be happy get away from her, she goes to talk to him shortly before his wedding. But before that, one of my favorite gags goes on as Chris (Jenna’s dream guy as a 13-year-old) drives the cab to Matt’s wedding and is played by Jim Gaffigan. Good use of the man, I must say.

Froemming: That was probably my favorite moment in this film.

So Jenna wants to not only destroy a publishing company, but Matt’s future as well (she already did a number on his past) by telling him she loves him (again, she is 13).

Now we come to Matt’s moment of sanity. He tells her no. He is going to marry the other woman. He is finally making the right choice in life. He has a future full of possibilities ahead of him. He has finally found happiness. Unfortunately, that PCP he bought in 1987 is still in the dream house he built and saved after young Jenna threw it at him.

Brown: Something to briefly mention about this wedding scene. This place has Matt’s family, right? There is no way Jenna waltzes into that house and no one recognizes her. They were next-door-neighbors for years. Someone WILL recognize Jenna, movie. Quit making me feel like an idiot for believing this.

Froemming: Matt’s happy ending in this tale is ruined. Just like how Jenna destroyed his youth, she will destroy his future by inhaling that PCP and traveling back to 1987 and the moment right before young Matt opens the closet door at her birthday party. And she kisses him, and they become a couple (I’m guessing she never tells him about the alternate future she destroyed).

Brown: My final three notes of this movie once we see the whole 90-minute experience was a dream (see: hallucination) and Matt and Jenna get married, complete with selfie. Because Matt’s a photographer and all.

  • It was all a dream? (Redacted) you, movie.
  • Oh, (redacted) you, movie.
  • Wait, did Mark Ruffalo invent the selfie? (Redacted) you, Mark Ruffalo.

I think now is about the time we take our “Magic Wishing Dust” and go back to a time where I didn’t pick this film. Let’s get to recommendations.


Brown: You know what? As far as rom-coms go, this isn’t a bad one. There’s a lot of stuff that makes me roll my eyes, but I’ve endured much, much worse ones. I wouldn’t say I hated this, so sure, why not? The actors/actresses are fine in their roles. Just don’t think a lot while you’re watching.

Froemming: Nope. This movie crosses many disturbing lines. While Garner plays the character well, and I enjoyed Ruffalo in this, the fact remains that there is just too much creepy crap going on in this movie.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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