Though its title suggests a hero mature beyond her years, Gary Winick's fantasy romantic comedy 13 Going on 30 actually gives us the opposite. Jenna circa 1987 suffers a junior-high social meltdown, makes a wish and wakes up an adult career woman whose still-teen-age mind contains no memory of how she got there.
Somewhere along the line, however, it appears that 30-year-old Jenna (Jennifer Garner) contracted a terminal case of the grown-ups. She's an editor of the lifestyle magazine Poise, whose vapid models her mom once warned her not to emulate, and she's gotten there by being beastly to everyone except maybe her sweetly dumb hockey-player boy-toy. Desperately confused, she tracks down the adult version of her childhood best friend, Mattie (Mark Ruffalo) -- now a nebbish-hipster photographer -- who turns out to have had nothing to do with her insufferable self for the past 17 years.
Perhaps one shouldn't expect too much of a movie that opens with pink glitter and The Go-Go's singing "Head Over Heels." But 13 Going on 30's sins exceed even its paint-by-numbers script -- Jenna saves a dully chic '04 soiree by getting everyone to dance to "Thriller"! -- and tepid homilies about what matters most in life (not to mention its blatant distaff rip-off of 1988's Big).
Despite its guise of personal empowerment through spunkiness, what the film really amounts to is a comeuppance for the working girl: Jenna spends most of the movie atoning for a bunch of Machiavellian choices she never even made. (We're given only verbal evidence of Nasty Jenna.) Worse, the sweetly innocent soul transplanted into a woman's body is cornered into apologizing for them. Maybe Eve was framed, but even an adolescent Jenna can't avoid the original sin of being a single working woman, redeemable only by marriage to her childhood sweetheart.
13 Going on 30 has moments of grace. Garner is charming -- her ticklishly grossed-out take when her boyfriend nibbles her ear is priceless -- and Ruffalo does what he can with his smitten-and-underwritten-guy role. Winick, whose 2002 comedy Tadpole explored a teen-age boy's mutual attraction to his mother's friends, here tosses out a handful of nice visual ideas, including Jenna's dimly lit cocoon-crawl out of a comforter to herald her transformation.
But the script won't let any of it breathe. Written by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (who also wrote What Women Want), it's capped by an ending that's supposed to be magical but is actually marginally creepy, as a Jenna wised up by her days as an adult returns to adolescence and reverse-engineers the life she'd now prefer.