In 1987, 13 year-old Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) wants to be part of the cool group at school. Inviting the cool girls to her birthday party, Jenna is tricked into playing a cruel joke on her best friend Matt (Sean Marquette). Later at the party she is sprinkled with magic dust and Jenna (Jennifer Garner) wakes up to discover she is suddenly 30 years old. Trapped inside her grown-up body, Jenna quickly discovers that her life has become everything her teenage ideals rejected. Re-connecting with Matt (Mark Ruffalo), whom she abandoned many years previously, Jenna sets about correcting the mistakes she cannot remember making.
Review by Richard Kuipers:
Written by Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, who put Mel Gibson into a female frame of mind in What Women Want (2000), Suddenly 30 is only a moderate entry in the body swap stakes. The insurmountable problem here is the unpalatable notion of a 13 year-old girl inhabiting the body of a fully-grown woman and being left to discover the mysteries of romance and sex. Fortunately the screen fades to black before Jenna and her big lug of an ice hockey-player boyfriend get too far into the clinch but it makes for uneasy viewing nonetheless. Also awkward is the manner in which the screenplay pitches its spin on the tried-and-true formula.
The funniest moments in comedies such as this (think Freaky Friday, Big and Vice-Versa) arrive when audiences are treated to the sight of adult performers behaving like children. There are a few early moments allowing Jennifer Garner to show how amusing this can be, but the character is forced to grow up rather too quickly and assume the role of her adult self simply to crank the creaky plot machinery into gear. As the sudden inhabitant of an ambitious staffer on a high-gloss fashion magazine located in Manhattan, our heroine is required to become too wise too soon.
Appeal wanes as the plot abandons goofy charm for a traditional office power struggle between career-girl Jenna and back-stabbing best friend Lucy (Judy Greer), who's naturally the leader of the cool girl group all those years ago. How the screenplay attempts to resolve the romantic complications between Jenna and Matt is also problematic. For starters it's hard to believe the chubby teenage Matt could have blossomed into handsome Mark Ruffalo but even more difficult to embrace is the fact we're dealing with a teenage girl falling for a 30 year-old man.
The attraction is understandable but it's hard to really stand by and cheer as Matt seriously considers calling off his engagement once Jenna shows up after 17 years. There's no major logic requirement for fluff like Suddenly 30 and the best examples raise barely a question as we gladly accept any number of magic transformations, leaps in time and triple-whammy role reversals. The trouble begins when audiences start questioning the validity of the fantasy world they're watching and there are too many unanswered ones to make Suddenly 30 the simple escapist fun it ought to be, despite Jennifer Garner's undeniable skills as a comedienne.
Review by Louise Keller:
Body-switch films can be fun; the key lies in the script and performances. Targeted for a young female audience, Suddenly 30 scores in the performance department with a delightful, dimpled turn by Jennifer Garner and solid charisma from Mark Ruffalo, but the script disappoints, with its inability to connect with reality. Never mind that it's derivative - after all, films like Freaky Friday, Big and Vice Versa give the concept a good name. The main problem lies in the development of the concept, and placing the characters into situations that are not sustainable.
In the early scenes when we meet 13 year old gauche Jenna ('I don't want to be original, I want to be cool'), we are never given a chance to believe in her relationship with Matt (nickname Beaver), the plump boy next door. We are told he is her best friend, but the bond between the two is not properly established. As the storyline relies on this as the most important element in the film, the casting of the young Matt is also crucial; it is a big leap to believe that the pudgy, uncool, awkward teen could turn into the thinking woman's sex symbol, Mark Ruffalo.
The best moments are those that ring true. There's a lovely scene when Jenna and Matt are eating red razzles (candy that doubles as gum). It seems like the most natural thing in the world that Jenna asks Matt if her tongue is red, and wants to see his tongue too. Jenna confiding 'love is a battlefield' to a group of wide-eyed 13 year olds also works well; we can truly believe that this is the kind of thing a 13 year old, trapped in a 30 year old body, would do. These are the moments, and not the divisive wishing dust and other contrivances, that inject momentary magic into Suddenly 30.
Director Gary Winick (Tadpole) handles the material with a light touch, but there are too many superficial moments and cheap laughs, like Jenna shrieking 'naked man' when she sees her live-in boyfriend in the bathroom and standing on the side of the road muttering 'excuse me', while trying to hail a cab. The scenes with sexual innuendo ('Let's play battleship'; 'I'll show you my destroyer') fall very flat, but the fantasy scenes (Jenna in a limo, shopping, selecting from her huge wardrobe of shoes and skimpy underwear) are Pretty Woman territory, providing the same kind of eye candy as you would expect from flicking through a glossy magazine at the hairdressers. But there are too many plot discrepancies and questions to which there are no answers.
Garner and Ruffalo make a good-looking couple and Garner, reminiscent of Julia Roberts, has plenty of fun with this comedic role. It's the instantly likeable Ruffalo, however, who gives the film heart. And in its own light-hearted way, the film offers an underlying moral about dreams and reality; who says you can't turn back the clock?
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SUDDENLY 30 (PG)
CAST: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves, Samuel Ball
PRODUCER: Susan Arnold, Gina Matthews
DIRECTOR: Gary Winick
SCRIPT: Josh Goldsmith. Cathy Yuspa
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don Burgess
EDITOR: Susan Littenberg
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Garreth Stover
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 2, 2004