A girl who suffers total humiliation at her 13th birthday party wishes she could be 30. The next morning, she is all grown up, living in a swanky Manhattan apartment with a gorgeous face and figure (played by Jennifer Garner). That part is pretty exciting. But the guy in the shower who seems to know her pretty well is pretty scary. And she can’t find her parents. Jenna races out of the building and a woman who seems to know her tells her to get into a limo and is talking a mile a minute about some job she seems to have as editor of Poise magazine.
Jenna will eventually realize that this is what she wished for, but she will also figure out that it was not really what she wanted. Her parents are away on a cruise, but she tracks down her very best friend, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), now a photographer. When he tells her he has not seen her since high school, she begins to understand that in order to become what she wished for, she has lost some of the things that mattered most.
Okay, we knew all of that from not only every body-switching movie ever made but from every wishing story ever told. And yes, there are all the expected collisions between the lives of the 13 and 30-year-olds. Jenna raises her hand to be called on in a meeting and responds “Ew, gross!” to the advances of her boyfriend. And darned if she won’t be the only one to come up with those save-the-day ideas for the magazine. But the script has some bright moments and there is also some nicely understated humor. The only possible environment where a 13-year-old’s sense of appropriate hair and fashion might be considered acceptable for an adult is, of course, in the offices of a fashion magazine, where the more outrageous something is, the more everyone else will feel that they are the ones who are missing something for not having it themselves. Jena writes her name at the top of the page at a meeting and keeps her office files in middle-school folders.
Ruffalo, as always, adds class and sweetness to the boyfriend role, and has impressive delicacy in providing romantic interest for someone who is, after all, emotionally just 13 years old. But what makes this one work is Garner, who is enormously touching and hilarious as the 13-year-old living in the body and life of a 30-year-old. Playing a child in an adult body gives her license to show every emotion without any pretense of sophistication. She is wonderfully open and vulnerable but she handles it lightly and with a lot of charm. And she captures it all perfectly, from her panic at not understanding what is going on to her rapture as she selects clothes and make-up for her grown-up self as though dressing a Barbie. Garner even gets the walk of a 13-year-old just right, from the shoulders, not the hips. And the look on her face as she does the dance to “Thriller” is so winning you won’t just smile with her; you might just start to dance along a little.
Parents should know that there is some sexual humor. Jenna is horrified to find a naked man in her apartment (the boyfriend of her grown-up self) and grossed-out by his advances. There are sexual references (“raunchy strip tease,” “57 ways to have an orgasm,” “jump your bones” and the 13-year-olds play a party game that is supposed to go a lot farther than Spin the Bottle. Unlike the male take on this situation in Big, the main character does not take advantage of the adult persona to have sex. Characters use brief strong language. Characters drink and drinking is shown as part of the fun of being a grown-up.
Families who see this movie should talk about how being a grown-up may be different than it appears to a child. What was the biggest surprise for Jenna? Do you agree with what Jenna’s mother said about mistakes? Families might also want to talk about the way middle-schoolers treat each other and how to make sure that you don’t grow up with the kind of regrets that Jenna does. Is/was there a “6 Chicks”-type group in your school?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Tom Hanks in a similar role in Big. There are many other movies with this theme, including Freaky Friday, 18 Again (with George Burns), 17 Again (with Tia and Tamara Mowry), Like Father, Like Son (with Dudley Moore), and Vice Versa, with Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage. Fans of The Lord of the Rings trilogy will enjoy seeing Andy Serkis, who provided the voice and movements for Gollum, as Richard, Jenna’s boss.