13 Going On 30

Thursday, September 30, 2004

I watch some of the movie. It seems like an easy movie to criticize for its subtext, though I reserve a feeling that by the end it will disavow the subtext in a wholesome, hard-to-argue-with, but for now I catalogue the things I find troubling in this body-swapper about a 13-year-old put into a statuesque frame and forced to deal with the consequences. We are invited to ogle the cleavage of a thirteen-year-old (though she is in a thirty-year-old body). Thirteen-year-old goes to a club and guys grab their d--ks at her. Thirteen-year-old gets smashed on mai tais or something. 13 does a dance from when she was three.*

*Thriller was released in 1982. If this girl is 13 in 2004 or so, the math indicates pretty clearly she was -9 or so when it came out. Maybe this is moot and maybe it isn't; her would-be colleagues at the club, the 30-30 club, would have been just about the right age, would have been 8 or so when Thriller came out, and so it's not surprising that they have fond memories; I'll even buy that they know the moves. The only trouble is that if they were 8 and she was -8, it's not the same as the sixteen-year difference between 13 and 29; there are thirteen-year-olds and twenty-nine-year-olds buying the same albums right now. Right now somewhere in this country there is a thirteen-year-old buying an album, and right now somewhere else a twenty-nine-year-old is buying the same album. This is okay. One's ahead, or one's behind, or both saw the same video; it doesn't matter much. The trouble is that it's not a sixteen-year difference; it's a negative version of the same age. One age is positive and one is negative, one exists and one does not exist. The kid wasn't born when Thriller came out, and this point is not meant to make anyone feel old, it's to explain that she doesn't share the same space or that same experience. The only part she has in Thriller is in recycling, in an attempt by an aging MTV special-block-programmer, a VH1 Best-Of weekend planner, a backward-reaching party or wedding DJ not to supply 13 with a weird, great song she missed but to remind other MTV programmers and VH1 planners of the experience both of those programmers shared. There's no objection to 13 seeing it - the programmer is well aware of the MTV demographic even on a special nostalgic block - but her interest is tangential. If she adopts it (which she obviously has through some circumstance) the programmer will be pleased to see it, and amused, but it will appear a novelty, a cuteness of a kid catching on who was well into the negative numbers when the original broke. There's no question it doesn't truly fit her and that her claim on it is illegitimate. Like clomping around in her father's shoes: cute, funny, always verging on implying some poignant statement on the proportionate or disproportionate aging of both parties, but they never become her shoes.

(I thought maybe she was supposed to have been 13 in the year when the 30-year-old would have been 13, making this not a body-swap but a time-traveller, but if Thriller didn't hit until 1982, then this hypothetical 1982 13-year-old would have hit a 35 or a minimum of 34 in 2004, and that's being generous with the birthday. So back to the original thesis.)

13 shimmies her chest at Mark Ruffalo. This is the only way she can get people to come out on the dance floor. Everyone does the dance. Some guy strips in 13's apartment. 13 has 30-friends to slumber party to show they are all still kids or still all kids. 13 is caught with unpaid bills in desk? An indication that there is something somewhere to prevent her from fully adopting this world, as if she would want to were it not for some bureaucracy she can't handle. 13 walks in rain and gets really wet. 13 is proportioned by Jake Busey-esque cab driver. 13 tries to break up Ruffalo wedding. Ruffalo turns down but gives 13 meaningful kid-type gift. She winds up with Ruffalo after magic trick to even out ages.

Thirteen Going On Thirty is about [cattle laced with] hormones and [more exposure to] sunlight turning kids into women before their time, about your breasts outpacing your mind. It says when the time is right you'll learn how to deal, and that the time will be thrust [sorry] upon you (sorry, but it will) when your hips make a belt unnecessary except as fashion accessory. Maybe it's not glib but tragic, someone involved understanding the awful weight of that implication and trying to create a parable that shows some hope for the future, personal and professional, for it also says, as Big does, that big business is solved by not attending business school, by fresh eyes, not by what you learn but by your unschooled creativity, a screenwriter's conceit.

With the swapped gender, Thirteen Going on Thirty can't say it's okay to sleep with Ruffalo, but the chief canonical entry - Big - says it is fine. The sex is good, but that's somewhat incidental; again the problem is making the mistake of using what you've learned through experience (you know Heard wasn't doing it right). Try it with a kid's fresh-faced wonder and marvel at the results. It's not entirely clear how Perkins feels about the spin, but Hanks' creepy look and subsequent jaunty morning stride - this no Morning After or How To Murder Your Wife, films about de- and disenjoyment and placed (or unmisplaced) resentment so true and complete it reaches the homicidal - like Schwarzenegger's horrendous glassy-eyed Richard Kiel grimace after his somewhat forced (in both senses [film-structurally unnecessary {unless maybe it was asking of America too much suspension of disbelief to see DeVito & Chloe Webb together while Schwarzenegger and Preston go unfulfilled, even if he didn't know he wanted it} and interpersonally, the chasm so wide and weird between his vastly overproduced, overdone body and his emotion-savant mind that it actually helps normalize the idea to remember the desexualizing effects of steroid use {unless you believe his assertions that he doesn't use them }] ) romp with Kelly Preston in Twins (same year, 1988), which says that the virgin must be jump-started - Hanks' reaction too, to his less forcefully but still older-instigated event (Arnold mentally seven years old or whatever) tells us that he has been initiated and that the unprepared seducee will be opened up -{here they are all male}-, that a concept understood only in the mechanical (Twins) or outline-conceptual (Big) means something on a different plane. It's not that these guys had more fun than they might have thought (Twins) or got it out of the way ahead of schedule (Big) but that they understood that something had been withheld from them.

We must assume the enlightenment would be the same for 13, right? She thinks boys are cute - at least young ones; her love for Ruffalo is toughter - but she is not allowed to enter the grown-up world, at least not until her dollhouse is actualized and she picks her horse and settles down. Then - possibly when it's too late - she gets the key, offscreen, post-credits. Why isn't she entitled? Would it help her life between ages 13 and 30? Josh (Big) is now an old soul, his experience at 14 explaining to him how things work (not sex but things, adult things [or adult things]), and we don't make him out to be a rowdy frat player in the intervening years but instead calm, knowing, sadder but wiser. There's no reason it wouldn't have worked out with Perkins. They're both sad to see him Merlinize. Between the years Little and Big he will be slow to love again, knowing a really nic thing can dissolve for no explicable reason. His sexual experience didn't tease about how great it would be but taught him, and for all the weird things that look might say, it does not say Perkins has created a monster. Without spending the next few years (average virginity age in 1987 xx.x) desperate, think what he can do - not only play his video game innocently but devote himself to his studies, the baseball team, the development of a classy quiet melancholy. Heartbreak's not an adult (Big) thing at all, but stupid, pointless, non-event-causal, mutually giving-up heartbreak is, and so he's ahead of the game. With a divorce under his belt at 14, he has learned not to try, a valuable adult skill, and will be good and ready to enter the workforce. So his first go is less deflowering than initiation, secret-society style, into the Great Big Brotherhood of Man.

So what about Julius? He's not exactly Gavin (Getting It Right). Socially he's a couple months old. It's supposed to be funny, though not ironic, that 83-pound Kelly Preston vamps him so hard he ages 28 years 10 months in one motel-room evening. To someone's credit, he's not looking for it. It's partly a retroactive gag - he's this perfect guy and we don't realize he's a schlemiel without a girlfriend until Preston shows, and since she's pretty clearly his about three seconds after that, it's not a gag that he's a schmendrick, just funny that we didn't notice. More power to us, though, if we didn't think 'What a jerk, ten pounds of muscle for every year of age and he never got to second!'

That ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly look is less beaming than Hanks and more ominous. (Granted, Hanks acts better, but we see what we have.) It says ohh sh-t, now he's finished, the project is complete. It says he beats who he wants [yeah, whom, but not this time], he was installed with the knowledge he needs in a compound from the planning stages of his scientifically determinate existence, singly fixated on a mission declared from home base, created for love of what he could be and what he could do if powered by the limits of technology, officially speaking far superior but also a being that will learn both actualization and limitation through its conflicts with a weaker, much shorter, slower, dumber animal (played here by DeVito) which can only deploy the defenses of smaller-mammal-ascribed (weasel, fox, vole?) traits like cunning, slyness, creative gumption. Played here by DeVito, but elsewhere by Biehn: that's Julius but also the Terminator. And now the Terminator has learned that it can get it on. Not only that, it can do so with a minimum of effort and pretty much whenever it wants. He/it is an unstoppable machine which now has an appetite for sex. Is it surprising to hear Schwarzenegger accused of groping women? The T-Julius no longer lacks anything: he/it has reached adulthood/taken on humanity. It is not sadder but wiser. It will not develop a quiet melancholy. Its baseball team is the severe removal of any force between it and its factory-installed goal.

Like 13 there is no span of years, no charitable learning curve. 13 was 13; now she is 30. At the end she goes back to 13 and it was all a dream, and now we will see how low it really goes: she goes back to 30. There is nothing in between. She meets no boys and keeps Ruffalo. Her success in business was due to her 13-year-old mindset and not school, so there is no need for education. Her hobby is making her dollhouse real, and that is auto-achieved as we pan out from husband and home. She does end up losing her virginity at 13/30. It's the same age so it doesn't really matter; the 30-year-old 13 at the end is still pretty clearly 13 herself. She learned nothing, did nothing, from 14 to 29.

The transformation is kind of sick, though. Sex turns Julius to 30; marriage turns 13 to 30. There's worse, though. 13 is 30 is 13; she gets it at 13. It's bad. Julius is worse. He's 2 months. Josh kinda seems to deserve it. He treats Perkins okay. He's old enough to understand longing, if not love, and he engages in the act because events seem to steer him that way, not because Kelly Preston has a long-running subscription to FLEX. Perkins instigates, to be sure, but she's going with that same flow. There are troubling reasons she's drawn to him - boy mama are there - but she seems not to realize, so judge her not too harshly. Her pedophilia is pretty latent, and if the movie likes to claim that lighthearted goofiness and dumb immature fun never go out of style and are perpetually, universally appealing, it might be a harder sell that women in their 20s through 40s all really like a man who shoves celery up his nose than just believing that Perkins is a little hung up on her first kiss with little Evan Gobdell right before he threw up six cups of red Kool-Aid on her 7th birthday Cookie Puss ice cream cake, although the overarching theory of breadstick walrus and celery-nose success would explain a lot about Greek societies of the college-fraternal order. So we know Perkins maybe needs a little therapy.

Preston should really know better, though. She knowingly puts the full-court press on this bizarre, enormous infant, deciding that what the weird street-combat savant needs is to catch a dose; Twins is like half a road movie, oor double half a road movie (for her a road trip), and either road movie or road trip needs a little motel motion. She is pretty obviously anxious in general (I mean horny), but also wants [to end] Arnold's ridiculous overinnocence. Schwarzenegger's role as noble childlike innocent might seem approximately as plausible as his role in Junior, but buy that or not, she knows he isn't quite right and jumps him in anyway. Now we know: you can lose your virginity at 2 months if you are buff enough. It gets worse. This guy was mixed in a lab: forged in the smithy: carved from the quarry. From his painstakingly designed metallic Terminating incarnation to this softset human version it is clear that Julius is, with only a change in the medium, exactly the same painstakingly designed statuary: Pygmalion, Pygmaleonine. If you're well enough crafted you don't even need to be human.

Poor 13. She is the same brain whether as 13 or as 30. As 30 she learns the rules to which she is subject. 13 is propositioned by her cabdriver, the price she pays for needing a ride. 13 shops for diaphonous purple underwear, the only thing she may wear with the development of her posterior and her debt to a panty-line-free society. 13 gets a garment thrown in her face by a stripping guy in her apartment, the price she pays for having her own apartment.
[Gross, she says, not Lohan exclamatory but quietly and put-upon.
(Josh thinks it's gross too. He's a little scared. He wants the lights on to process gross. He is not uninterested in gross. He likes frogs, gross, and bugs, gross.)
{Julius doesn't think it's gross any more than a doctor thinks a patient's body is gross. He has a complete clinical understanding of the physiological principles and requirements of the act.}
She would like to shout "Gross!" and throw it back at him. It's too bad it's not allowed: she does have the apartment, after all].
13 walks in the rain and gets really wet. We gaze, sighing, at her tantalizing, lovely 13-year-old cleavage, the price she pays.

Reviewed by Matthew Abrams
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