Sunday, January 28, 2007

A Sentimental Cynic Views a Chick Flick

January 28

Yesterday I had lunch with Don, a friend who unabashedly admits he likes chick flicks. It was raining and quite chilly, and when I got home I yearned for a nice warm movie to crawl into.

One of the movies on the tube last night, a slight film with the title 13 Going on 30, was fine fare for my mood. Even though it meant enduring the constant interruption for annoying commercials -- during which I could channel-surf and observe and hear the drone of authors on Book TV on C-Span 2 -- I found myself intrigued with this little female version of Big.

The advantage this movie had to me is my lifelong admiration for girls in the age span of 11-13. There is something so touching about this age, particularly for females, before they really begin to think about how beautiful they are and how best to enhance whatever charms they have. A friend once described this life passage as "the grace period," referring to the authentic and often clumsy, childlike joy of girls before they begin to prepare to become women. Maybe my fascination is based on memory of myself at that time, enjoying the freedom from the oppression of competition for the the new shade of lipstick, the new charm bracelet, the right kind of shoes. Little girls of that age love each other, and, though they often yearn for grownup traits, they don't really have them yet.

The beginning of 13 Going on 30 captures that, in the beginning of the movie, when the little girl -- perfectly personified by Christa B. Allen -- is planning her 13th birthday party. She is best friends with the boy next door, and she seeks acceptance by the obnoxious "in" group of girls, admitting that she will do anything to be like them. To escape the nightmare of the party (during which the girls play a cruel trick involving the boy next door whom they regard as nerdy), she must become like a celebrity in her favorite magazine, that is, she must become 30 years old and love it.

The movie is silly, actually, with the device of magic dust transforming her to age 30; just as Big transformed Tom Hanks through an amusement park machine. Given that, and given that I was already hooked and eager to see what Jennifer Garner could do in the Hanks-like transformation, I stayed with it and remained at least bemused by the rest of the film and quite hooked by the inevitable ending.

Garner, it turns out, does a nice turn at being a 12-year-old in a 30-year-old body. (I know she's chronologically 13, but to me it's more 12 since it's just her birthday.) She adores her clothes, loathes the men in her 30-year-old life, and seeks out the boy who used to live next door, whom apparently she had traumatized all those years ago as part of the party trick. Luckily the boy next door is now played by Mark Ruffalo, and is now a hunky photographer and she is now a powerful women's magazine editor.

I won't give away any more of the plot, such as it is. Let's just say my favorite scenes were the dancing of "Thriller," first so touchingly by Christa B. Allen, and later by Garner, Ruffalo, and a host of New York sophisticates said to be in the publishing biz.

This is not a movie of any consequence. It is entertainment, if you're willing to suspend disbelief. I was happy to get acquainted with the pre-Affleck Jennifer Garner, who, in 2004 when the film was released, had a very shapely body atypical of the times (read: She actually had hips), and see that there is considerable flair for comedy there. Mark Ruffalo won me over too. And Christa B. Allen, wherever she may be now that she is outside the grace period, I shall forever hold in my memory as the prototype of a little girl of that certain special age.

And guess what: 13 Going on 30 will be shown again tonight on the Fox Movie Channel at 6 P.M. EST.

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