Dorian's Movie Reviews & Critiques

Is it worth seeing? Reviews are presented with no cynicism, no comparisons, no biased standards, no pretentiousness - every movie is reviewed on its individual entertainment value including technical presentation.

Note that a critique for writers follows the review.

Scale 1 - 10
13 Going On 30
2004, Revolution Studios; Columbia Pictures
Directed by Gary Winick
Written by Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa.
MPAA Rating: - PG-13 -

What would you do if you woke up one morning and didn't like the person you had become? Perhaps it had something to do with what you wanted when you were 13. If we could only see the future... If we could only have "do overs...."

In 1987, 13 year old Jenna (Jennifer Garner), wants to be in the "in crowd" in high school. She also wants the most popular boys to fawn over her. At moments, she is willing to hurt her best friends to be that person she wants so badly to be. The goal isn't so far away, if only...

Waiting expectantly in a closet for the most popular guy to come and give her "seven minutes of heaven," she is catapulted into the sinisterly deceptive world of popularity when instead of that "special boy," her best friend Matt enters. Everyone else in the in crowd has deserted her while she waits. In a fit of scorn, she crushes her best friend and his gift, and the rest is history - sort of. Reduced to tormented tears, Jenna wishes passionately she could just be 30.

Jenna awakens to find all of her dreams have come true. She is an associate editor of a popular magazine, has a nice New York apartment, has the most popular guys as boy friends, and is popular in the social circuit. But she gets a rude awakening as she slowly unravels the kind of person that she has become. It isn't a pretty picture. Her treachery is wrecking her life and the lives of others. Even with a 13 year old's mentality, or perhaps because of it, she realizes that she has gone the wrong direction.

Struggling to cope with her new life, Jenna seeks out her old friend, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), and they clumsily renew their shattered relationship. They fall in love. The only problem is that Matt is already engaged to be married. Will she wreck their lives, too? In the end, she has a choice - will she continue her wretched record and wreck Matt's life, or make the right choice and go on without him?

Jennifer Garner delivered a great performance as an awkward 13-year-old in a 30-year-old's body. It was very believable. Mark Ruffalo complemented the story very well as Matt. Both Christa Allen and Jack Salvatore Jr. as the young Jenna and Matt, also delivered great performances. Judy Greer, who played Jenna's friend and foe, Lucy, and her younger counterpart Tom-Tom, played by Alexandra Kyle, were also very believable and gave very enjoyable performances.

The themes of this movie are timeless, and appeal to young, old, male, and female. Everyone wishes... the grass is always greener... It is a cute movie. It is rated PG-13 for "Some Sexual Content and Brief Drug References..." most of which seem necessary to the film. Enjoy!

Movie Web site: 13 Going On 30.

Engaging: Yes.
Boring: No.
Confusing: No.
Characters: Up to the task.
Entertaining: Yes.
Plot: Timeless themes, somewhat repetitive to some.
Uniqueness and originality: Some.
Surprises: Some nice twists.
Recommend this movie to others: Yes.

Emotional reaction to the movie (the following are from a work in progress):

  • Film Mood: Rejection, acceptance, searching, energetic.
  • Film ethos* (feelings left with): uplifted, enlightened, matured, story moral, hospitable, romantic, sympathetic, warm hearted.
  • Film Energy: courageous, engaging.
  • Film Outlook: optimistic
* Ethos: The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific person, people, culture, or movement.
- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.

Technical and critique

My comments below attempt to draw attention to technical things that make a movie good, especially if they made major contributions. For professional judgments on these various arts, the reader should consult professionals in these arts, and realize that these notes are not necessarily part of the overall rating for entertainment value.

  • Writing - great characterization; good integration of interaction with the set and use of the set as a character regarding the magazine graphics. Very visually presented. Remembering the past, and the Michael Jackson dance didn't seem to make the point. Plot lacked enough originality and surprises. Predictable and a bit tame - could have been developed more. Six spotlights for a sound but unremarkable story.
  • Acting - Very good performances. Nine spotlights.
  • Casting - Well chosen. Ten spotlights.
  • Directing - the scenes flowed well; the story was cohesive; the story needed some work; the drama was told visually; and good overall production. Eight spotlights.
  • Lighting -
  • Production design - Very good use of the set to help tell the story through interaction. Nine spotlights.
  • Special effects - Cool opening and closing graphics of powder puff splotches in blue and pink. Noteworthy.
  • Editing - the action flowed smoothly, capturing good action and character reactions, putting together a very coherent story. Nine spotlights.
  • Music - seamless, and complimented the action. Noteworthy.
  • Costume design - Good selections to represent the adult body tastes of a 13 year old. Nine spotlights.
  • Choreography - Good. Eight spotlights.
  • Cinematography - well executed and told the story visually. Ten spotlights.

Story critique: what worked well, what didn't, and why?

Is this movie a cliché? The phrases I could use to describe its themes were: "If I only knew then what I know now;" and "the grass is always greener;" and "do overs;" and "in crowd;" and "fish out of water." Or is this a movie with timeless themes? This movie breaks rules about a lack of surprises, and about slipping into the supernatural, and about being clichéd, but it is still good enough to make it to the big screen.

These themes are always interesting, and recur in movies over and over again. We just wish that we could know how life would be if things were different. And there is uniqueness here.

Many great movies have similar themes and structures. They commonly involve a supernatural element of a character suddenly finding himself in the future, past, or a different present, and typically in a different life. They usually pose against a current romance. The uniqueness of each of these movies is in the question that they ask of us. Some examples of similar movies:

It's A Wonderful Life asks about our value to others. If we hadn't lived, would it have made any difference? To find the answer, the present is explored as it would be without his past.

Mr. Destiny asks, if our lives had taken a different path, would we have married that other glamorous person and had a very different life? Would the impact have been good or bad? Would we be better off with the person that we married? The present is explored as if the past had taken a different path.

Scrooged asks if when we die, will we be satisfied with the contribution we made to the world, and satisfied with our character? The past is reviewed, and what will occur in the future if he continues on the same course.

The Family Man asks an adult whose life is devoid of relationships, when shown another more enriching path, which would he choose? He is removed from his present life and given a different history.

Groundhog Day asks pointedly over and over, can we take the time to do life better? Do you really want to be the person you have become? He is removed from his future and forced to live one day over and over again, each time getting a little more involved in helping others with their lives.

13 Going On 30 asks if you are 13 and immediately get the things that seem desirable today, what will you become if you pursue this direction until you are 30? Will you like the person that you have become? She is removed from her present life and put into the future at 30 years old. She learns that the experiences gained through living, mistakes and all, are important lessons in preparing you for the future.

The general theme of these stories is: What kind of people do we want to become, in that, what effect do we want to have on our world and on our own character, through life and its choices? It is not the supernatural that resolves the problem, it is character choice.

If we were hit with these themes and general structure too often, it would become blasé. But at infrequent intervals, it is a nice delivery vehicle for unique themes, various plots, and various characters and motivations.

What didn't work so well for me was: The story line in 13 Going On 30 had a couple of weak spots. With the "remembering the past," the point seemed forced - I don't think that it made the point. Experience seemed to be the relevant point in the story, and the past just seemed like irrelevant sentiment.

In the dancing scene to Michael Jackson music, certainly energizing music with a driving dance beat replaced the nondescript drivel that was playing - but it didn't seem to hit the point of an interesting society style party for a fashion magazine. Where were the lively atmosphere and discussions? This sapped some of the dramatic intensity from the movie. Perhaps the aim was just too low.

Representative scene: If a picture could be painted that visually symbolized the entire story, it was the scene with Jenna in her bedroom, and several 13 year olds lying on her bed, slumber party style, listening with rapt attention to her every word of advice on life and romance. It was 13 year olds learning from the voice of experience what they would know then.

- Dorian (hey, it's actually me, Scott. Dorian is my first name.)


  • 10 Spotlights: The best of movie making, well worth seeing (rarely given)
  • 8 Spotlights: Good movie for the genre; may have minor technical or story problems but they hardly harm the enjoyment; clearly worth seeing; (most movies)
  • 6 Spotlights: Not bad, but has deficiencies - worth seeing
  • 4 Spotlights: Caution - a "B" movie, probably will appeal only to some
  • 1 Spotlight: Caution - not recommended for any audience (will probably never be given)

My reviews are not based much on my personal taste, or any standard besides entertainment value. I try to be as objective as possible, keeping in mind that entertainment value is very subjective and individualized. If I'm not interested in a movie I usually don't go see it, so it doesn't get reviewed. Each character, and each position in the production company might be highlighted if the contribution affected the enjoyment of the story as either outstanding or dismal and I noticed it, keeping in mind that many contributions are singularly distinguished by their seamless integration with the story, not calling attention to themselves and thereby escaping attention.

- Dorian Scott Cole

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