Romantic comedies are magical in their own right. Even with a dash of conflict, they are full of love, laughs, and larger-than-life gestures that help us escape reality for a fleeting 90 minutes.
Some of the best romantic comedies throw in a bit of science fiction to shake up the plot and throw its lead characters for a loop. For this sweet rom-com, it’s time travel that spurs the story forward, and the movie fully commits to the hilarity that comes from its main character being thrust 17 years into her future.
That is largely thanks to Jennifer Garner, whose immense charm as Jenna takes 13 Going on 30 to a new level. The 2004 movie is a pure delight, using time travel to transport 13-year-old Jenna into a future where she assumes the life of her future self, a 30-year-old fashion magazine editor who might not be all that Jenna hoped she would be.
Like any great sci-fi movie, 13 Going on 30 takes you on a journey of self-discovery, and now that it’s streaming on HBO Max, here’s why this is one movie that will lift your spirits.
Directed by Gary Winick, 13 Going on 30 begins in 1987, where 13-year-old Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) and her best friend Matty (Sean Marquette) are doing their best to get through middle school. Jenna wants to be popular and win over the “Six Chicks,” a clique of mean girls (Captain Marvel’s Brie Larson briefly appears as one of the popular girls). She invites them to her birthday party, and their leader Tom-Tom (Alexandra Kyle), only agrees if Jenna does her homework.
At the party, Matty gifts Jenna a handmade dollhouse and sprinkles “magic wishing dust” on it so that all of her dreams can come true. The sweet moment is disrupted with the Six Chicks arrive and play a cruel trick on Jenna with the game “Seven minutes in heaven.” Humiliated by her schoolmates, Jenna blames Matty and wishes to be “thirty, flirty, and thriving” like the women in Poise, her favorite fashion magazine.
The next morning, the adult Jenna (Garner) wakes to see her wish granted. She’s now 30 with her own New York City apartment, a big-time job as a Poise editor, a best friend in Tom-Tom who now goes by Lucy (Judy Greer), and a famous hockey player for a boyfriend. It’s everything she ever wanted; only, Jenna soon realizes her dreams aren’t really what she wanted them to be.
Upon realizing she woke up as an adult, with no memory of the last 17 years, she rushes to find Matty (Mark Ruffalo), and she discovers the adult version of her hasn’t been friends with him since that fateful birthday party.
As the two reconnect, their friendship blossoms into something romantic, but Matty has a fiancée, and Jenna still needs to contend with all of the decisions — good and bad — that she had made as an adult.
Garner fully embraces her character’s 13-year-old spirit. Her wide-eyed optimism and joy over her newly granted freedoms make for a fun watch, even if the film’s comedy is a little cringe-worthy and dated at times. But seeing Andy Serkis, who plays Jenna’s boss, moonwalk during the famous “Thriller” dance scene doesn’t get old, and neither does the winsome chemistry between Garner and Ruffalo.
There’s much to love about 13 Going on 30, but what makes it unique is that it uses a simple time travel premise to tell a cautionary tale about how the best things in life have often been in front of us all along. It’s never too late to rewrite the future.
13 Going on 30 is now streaming on HBO Max.