Body Swap Week: 13 Going on 30 (2004)
I WANT TO BE THIRTY AND FLIRTY AND THRIVING!
by Andrew Root
In a few weeks, I’ll be turning 30 years old. I can say things like “it’s been seventeen years since I last took a piano lesson.” I’m sure this signifies something.
I was recently asked to take a small, non-singing part in a college musical in which I play a WASPy Harvard University admissions officer who is befuddled – utterly befuddled! – by a young lady who dresses all in pink and, in lieu of a personal essay, applies to the prestigious learning institute via a headshot (can you guess?). The director of the play, a sprightly 23-year-old, said that the part needed a more mature element, and since it didn’t involve singing (actually, it involves looking about bewilderedly, wondering why on earth everyone else is singing), I agreed. At the first read-through of the script, I met the rest of the cast; first year sociology majors arrived in their pyjamas cooing eagerly over how coffee is just the best, while their elders—the wizened third and fourth years—ate apples and bananas and talked about which teacher’s college they were going to apply to. I was asked what my major was, what year I was in. Someone I didn’t know gave me a hug when we were introduced. I began to tilt my head to the side as one might if interacting with an adorable baby goat, and say things like “Oh honey, no. I’m old. I don’t have a major.”
I’m starting to feel my age.
Some of these people were 13 years old only five years ago. Where were they then? At 13 years old, I was most likely devouring Smashing Pumpkins’ Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness in the bedroom that my non-identical twin brother had just vacated, ending our lifetime status as roommates. There was a baseball border running around the ceiling and red, yellow, and blue sponge painting on the walls that my mother refused to let me paint over because she had put so much work into it just three years previous. I was a year away from my first kiss with a girl named “Mickey” who I’d never met before and haven’t seen since. I played baseball twice a week in a church league, and I’d discovered that masturbation was amazing. I’d given up piano lessons and I got straight A’s in school. I would be awarded the “citizenship award” at my grade 8 graduation (though I’m still not quite sure what I did to achieve such a title). I was a good kid, by all accounts.
Around the time you turn 13, you find that you can earn friends by either being nice to certain people or being mean to other people. I chose the former, my brother the latter—and I was his target. He was the picture of a cool kid: tall, athletic, confident with a rebellious streak that got him noticed by all the girls in the class. I was shorter, my hair was fluffy and unruly, and I still wore whatever clothes were bought for me, usually from Zellers. Though I was a natural target, I was strangely removed from the politics of being liked. I had a group of similarly picked-on friends, and who needed everyone else? I realize that this is not the case for everyone.
Jenna Rink, the awkwardly earnest protagonist of 13 Going On 30, wants desperately to be part of the popular clique, and aims to get there via a system of stuffing her bra, dressing in neon, and shunning her Talking Heads-loving best friend, Matt. She’s fully embroiled in the politics of adolescence, all with the goal of being liked in mind. At her 13th birthday party, Jenna is tricked by the improbably named “Tom-Tom”, leader of the “Six Chicks Clique”, into waiting blindfolded in the closet for Chris (the magnificently-coiffed object of her desires). In a total dick move, everyone sneaks out. When Matt appears in the closet instead of her expected beau, Jenna is devastated and curses her one true friend.
Here’s where it gets strange. The magical body change of this movie comes via a conveniently placed cloud of “wishing dust” that falls about Jenna as she brokenheartedly repeats her magazine-inspired manta: “I want to be thirty and flirty and thriving.” In a “presto chango!” that fast forwards her life by seventeen years, the gawky teenager is transformed into Jennifer Garner, and is magically spirited away from her embarrassing suburban house into a sleek Manhattan apartment, complete with a job at a fashion magazine and a hunky professional hockey player for a boyfriend. Even the 30 year-old Tom-Tom (Judy Greer) has become her best friend! Jenna jumps along the timeline from 1987 to 2004, clearing the bog of adolescence and all its trials and embarrassments, and when she comes to, she’s shocked to find what her life has become. You know what they say about being careful what you wish for…
Why 30? Because at 30, you’re supposed to have everything figured out. You’re supposed to have a home and a family and a career. You’re supposed to be set up for the rest of your life. Just writing that sentence made a wave of anxiety wash over me. At thirty, my brother and two older sisters were married, houses and careers secured, little ones either on the way or already arrived. I rent. I have no kids and no plans for kids in the near future. I have two degrees, but have recently made the decision to abandon my career path in favour of I don’t know what. At 30, I’m starting all over again.
Did I do something wrong? Am I a failure? By a lot of people’s standards, yes. Without the traditional benchmarks of success, I wear a target on my back for well-meaning, back-handed comments. When I landed a job working with at-risk teens (a job I am both good at and find incredibly rewarding), the news was superseded by the fact that it only offers part-time hours. “Well, it’s something,” the well-wishers say, with a tight-lipped smile and a hand on my shoulder like I’m a diamond miner who found coal instead. I recently skipped my 10-year high school reunion, in large part because I didn’t want to spend the evening explaining myself and the reasons why things aren’t exactly where I thought they might be.
Like any good Faustian parable, Jenna gets what she wants at the expense of her soul. As the newly-transformed Jenna acclimatizes herself to her new lifestyle, new body, new personal dynamics (just why is everyone afraid of her?), she comes to realize that during that seventeen year lapse, she became kind of a bad person. She’s selling out her coworkers to a rival magazine; she cruelly ditched Matt at that party and never spoke to him again, favouring a Machiavellian rise through the ranks of her high school’s social network; she never sees her family; her boyfriend is a douche. Thirteen-year-old Jenna can’t imagine how she got to this place. By all appearances, she’s everything she wanted to be as a grown-up, but after one week of critical insight into how she got there, the whole thing comes crashing down. Jenna realizes that her rejection of Matt dramatically fractured her one real friendship—and that she’s unable to get him back. Seventeen years of bad blood and hurt feelings have led him into the arms of another woman, and it’s simply too late for her to make sufficient amends. Our hero is long past the time when dancing solves problems.
Jenna, or course, gets to go back. Just when she’s at her lowest, that darn cloud of wishing dust swirls around her and she wakes to find herself back in the closet of her parent’s basement—13 again, with all her choices and mistakes ahead of her. A quick transition to a wedding and a candy-floss pink dream house speak to her better choices the second time around. The film resolves with her on the lawn of her new home, with her old friend/new husband, happy, and very much in love (and by the looks of the house’s size, pretty successful to boot).
And there’s the fiction of it all. I can’t clap my hands and take a year off before going to university to find out what I really want to study instead of just majoring in whichever subject I got the highest marks. I can’t take back those two separate occasions on which I cranked up massive amounts of debt to travel across the Atlantic for two different girls. I should have done more research into just how oversaturated the job market was before I dedicated two years to pursuing a career that maybe I wasn’t very passionate about in the first place. But I can’t do that. And why would I want to?
I like my life. I’ve got good friends, a wonderful family, a caring and supportive partner, and limitless potential. I don’t anticipate having anything figured out as I traverse my thirties, and who’s to say I should? There is no benchmark number. There is no age at which you are supposed to be any one particular thing. I can see the comfort in that way of doing things, but nothing exciting happens when you’re comfortable. That isn’t to say that you should buck tradition for the sake of it. Just know that it’s okay to not have it figured out. You’ve got a friend in me.
But Hollywood gives us happy endings for a reason, and it’s important to keep dreaming. And so, with the help of some conveniently-placed wishing dust, here are a few wishes for my dream life at 30:
- A publishing deal for that children’s book I started writing about the charming neighbours and their whimsical adventures.
- A theatre that could financially support all the theatrical people in my town who have professional-level talent, but not professional-level opportunities.
- The discovery that my dog no longer turns nasty when I try to trim her nails.
- A real New Penzance Island (from Moonrise Kingdom), where I would live in a replica of Suzy Bishop’s house.
- Woodworking skills.
- A local cinema that regularly holds Terrence Malick retrospectives alongside Jim Henson tribute nights.
- Wisdom, satisfaction, a sense of adventure.
Andrew Root wants it known that this is the first movie that Andy Serkis chose to do after Lord of the Rings. He tumbls here.