Mon. Jul 4th, 2022

Rarely does a film evoke mathematical questions, but a few exceptions occasionally pop up. But since it’s been a while and in the spirit of arithmetic discourse, here’s a quickie: What do you get when you take the derivative of a derivative? Well, technically, a second derivative. But if you prefer dealing with numerals, “13 Going on 30” would be an acceptable answer. The film has consistently been called a female version of the 1988 film, “Big,” which itself was just one of several body-switching films (“Vice Versa” was another) indebted to “Freaky Friday.”

All of the entries in this mini-genre romanticize the notion of childish minds inhabiting adult bodies with a simple formula – a humiliated kid makes a wish, grows up (an adult may devolve for an added twist) and the laughs hypothetically follow.

Since it comes on the heels of last year’s successful Freaky Friday update, “13 Going on 30” follows “Big”‘s little-kid footsteps in more ways than one. An inherent nostalgia for childhood drives all of these films, and when you mix a lack of ideas with nostalgia, it’s remake time.

As the cycle of nostalgia perpetuates itself, you naturally start to encounter rip-offs of things that were essentially rip-offs to begin with. “13 Going on 30” didn’t start this phenomenon — and is harmless enough not to end it — so we’re left with recycled fluff to look at for 90 minutes.

Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) is an awkward metal-mouthed teen who possesses an aloof dignity about the cool kids’ rejection of her. But at least she has Matt (Sean Marquette), who always carries a camera along with his baby fat, but even he can’t save her 13th birthday party.

“I don’t want to be original. I want to be cool!” Jenna says, so of course she’s neither. During the disastrous party, she locks herself in a closet and wishes to be “thirty, flirty and thriving.” And thanks to a dash of magic movie dust, her wish comes true.

Jenna is Rip Van Winkled from 1987 to 2004 — gone are the zits and braces and in their place are breasts and her hunky boyfriend’s appalling “thingie.” She now edits a fashion magazine and is friends with Lucy (Judy Greer), one of her teen tormenters.

Desperate for an explanation, Jenna seeks out her trusty Matt (Mark Ruffalo), to whom time has been aesthetically charitable. When she finds him, he recalls how she cast him aside like last fall’s sweater after her 13th birthday in favor of Lucy’s clique.

As a sort of born-again moralist, Jenna feels bad and the fact that Matt has shined up so nicely only complicates things. Since he’s neither bitter about her dismissal of him nor too fond of his fiancee, you’d have to be 13 going on three to not know what’s ahead.

This formulaic setup produces the expected grin-and-bear-it results, but to its credit, the film gets most of the grins right. Seeing Jenna lead a party of New York socialites in a butchered version of “Thriller” (it’s what she remembers) quells that inward groan — at least temporarily.

Given that she does skip 17 years of technological and societal revolution, we might expect a fair amount of ignorance on Jenna’s part. But other than a bumbling cell phone encounter and a few fashion faux pas, she’s a pretty savvy girl.

The script wavers on whether the grown-up Jenna is young at heart (inherently old-fashioned) or young of mind (inherently stupid). We get more of the former as Jenna, although she can’t really handle the boys, has a solid grip on Poise (her magazine). Whatever.

Tom Hanks received an Academy Award nomination for his performance in “Big.” Nobody should expect the same for anyone in this film, but Garner and Andy Serkis (as Poise’s prissy editor-in-chief) shine in what could have been pretty stereotypical parts through understatement.

In “13 Going on 30,” Garner, in particular, produces enough goofy moments that she — like Hanks – can expect to see her role reimagined again before her career starts to descend. Kids will always long for adulthood and adults will always long for the past, so you can count on it.

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