The Blind Date:
Imagine a large, yet un-intrusive Christmas gift sitting under the tree. Its red bow taunting a young boy to open it, to reveal the greatness that lay inside. Imagine that on Christmas day, that young boy, with front teeth missing, opens that gift and finds a lovely puppy sitting patiently within the box. The two meet eyes and it’s love at first sight; they grow up together and form a bond not even the Devil himself could break.
That’s how I feel about romantic comedies or “rom-coms”. Watching them, I am full of anticipation. I invest fully as the lowly and meek man/woman finds the courage within themselves to not only fall in love, but with the person that they are “meant” to be with. I wait with bated breath for them to share their first kiss, and announce their love for one another. Within in one 90-minute film, I become the Hallmark Channel’s target audience, and I don’t care. For you see, when I was young warthog…er, I mean boy, I was desperate to fall in love. I would watch these movies with the guy getting the girl and having that wonderful kiss as the music swelled, and a little part of me wished that I could have that. With each crush, I would imagine the following scenario:
Me: Hey (insert random girls name)
Random Girl: Hey.
Me: I need to tell you something.
RG: What’s up?
Me: For the longest time, I have wrestled with how I would say this. Would I wait until the school dance? Would I wait until we were away from our friends? But I can’t wait any longer.
(In this fantasy it would begin to rain. Some pop-ballad of the time would start to play softly in the background).
RG: What is it David? What do you want to say?
(I would lean in and kiss her. Like in the movies. Long, hard, and passionate).
Me: I love you.
RG: I love you, too.
The music would swell and roll credits. But of course that was fantasy, and it never happened that way. Yet during my formidable years I would hold on to that hope, that one day I would find that kind of love. While I waited for “Ms. Right” to come around, I would reinforce this false reality, by seeing movies that had these similar scenarios (Down To You, Sliding Doors, etc). In the year 2004, I would satisfy this urge, by seeing a film called 13 Going On 30.
Part of the reason I dragged my best friend at the time to see this film, was that we both had a HUGE crush on Jennifer Garner. With Alias in it’s third season, we were pretty sure that she was the most gorgeous woman on the planet. So as the lights dimmed and the film started, being 13, we weren’t watching the movie for plot or substance. We didn’t care about the story of a young girl being magically transported from age 13 to age 3o through use of magic. We wouldn’t care that she was living the life she thought she wanted, and missing what was truly in front of her. No we didn’t care at all. We would just admire Ms. Garner and her girl-next-door charm. Her crooked smile and her adorable hazel eyes, were all that we needed.
Yet for me, I was waiting to watch Matt (Mark Ruffalo) and Jenna (Garner) fall in love and share that first kiss. From their first meeting as adults, where Jenna is freaking out at her new transformation, to their very cute montage where they dance in a fake winter-wonderland and have that near kiss.
The 2nd Date:
Ten years later, I find myself in a committed relationship and no longer yearning for that fictitious scene. Now secure in who I am, and no longer going through puberty, I watch these films for a very different reason other than emulation; I’m watching them for the joy that the cheesy dialogue provides. When I hear an exchange such as:
Woman: What took you so long?
(Rain is pouring on the young lovers)
Man: I was an idiot. I couldn’t see what was right in front of me.
Woman: You’re too late.
(She begins to walk away).
Man: If that’s true, then tell me you don’t love me.
(A long beat)
(The two stare at each other, and the man moves forward and kisses the woman).
I just roll my eyes, not out of boredom or disgust, but because in my head I know that the writers hit the beat at the right moment to get the audience to smile and silently cheer that the two lovers, who were once doomed to never be with each other, have finally seen that they belong together.
When re-watching 13 Going On 30, there is a lot of that kind of eye rolling. Penned by the writing team and real life husband and wife, Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa (previous credits include What Women Want and various episodes of King of Queens), Jenna’s journey to find her true meaning in life is pretty standard. Yet what I found in the second viewing, was just a lot of inconsistencies and tired tropes. From the opening credits to the somewhat standard setup of characters and eventual overarching plot, the film manages to still hold some of it original charm, all the while appearing to be a carbon copy of other films of its genre.
If you’ve seen Big, with Tom Hanks, then you know the “magic” that is behind 13 Going On 30. A teen wants to be something they aren’t and through magic they get the chance to see if the grass is indeed greener on the other side. However, what 13 Going On 30 lacks is charisma with its device that transports young Jenna into her older self. For Hanks, that device was a mystical fortune-teller machine that would grant wishes and roll through town like a tumbleweed in the middle of the desert; always moving but with no destination. In 13 Going On 30 the magical device is “wishing dust” that just so happens to fall on young Jenna as she chants a mantra in the same cadence as Dorothy when she clicks her heels together. The “wishing dust’ almost feels shoehorned in to help move the plot along. While I find that hard to take, I still manage to affectionately roll my eyes and allow the story to progress
It’s no surprise that Jenna and Matt are going to be together; the obstacles that Josh and Cathy put Jenna and Matt through are predictable and anything but surprising. Yet what makes this movie enjoyable with each viewing, is the chemistry and commitment that Garner and Ruffalo provide. They “sparkle” (if you’ve seen the movie then you’ll get this totally awesome reference), on screen together and give the right pitch and tone that a movie like this needs. Nice clean cut guy falls in love with the adorable successful woman. It’s the exact fuel these films thrive off of.
However, despite the leads wonderful chemistry, you can’t help but see the issues that this movie has. From the paint by numbers plot, to the not-so-surprising plot twists (What!? Jenna was selling magazine secrets to the competition! What a bitch she was before this life altering transformation!), to the dance sequence – yes there is a dance sequence – its just a run of the mill movie with nothing that really stands out.
13 Going On 30, for me, falls in the same vain as Hook, I will continue to re-watch this movies for purely nostalgic and guilty pleasure purposes; it’s the type of movie that every “Rom-Com” lover should watch at least once, just to say you did. It’s not a terrible movie, nor is it terribly good. It just is, and that’s okay. It knows what it is, and it’s proud of it. Watch it while you vacuum your apartment, or while your cable’s out because you didn’t pay the bill; it’s guaranteed to give you at least one smile moment and at least one, either silent or vocal, “Aww” moment, and if it doesn’t, well then you should you consult your physician as you might be dead inside.
Until next time….