Dir: Gary Winick. US 2004. 97mins

A female take on the 1988 hit Big, 13 Going On 30 concerns an insecure 13-year old girl who longs to be a grown up, convinced that adulthood confers automatic popularity, success and happiness. With the help of a little magic dust, she gets her wish.

While it is sure to click with its target audience of pre-teen girls, as well as many of their mothers, it won't be the box office juggernaut that the Tom Hanks film was (the fourth highest grossing picture of the year, Big made almost $115m domestically and another $36m-plus overseas - by 1988's prices).

A more apt comparison might be the recent Freaky Friday, which saw a combined overseas/domestic take of around $160m. While 13 Going On 30 doesn't have quite as much to recommend it, the film is almost sure to be a hit for Columbia Pictures when it opens in the US this weekend.

The film has minor problems, and while these should not trouble adolescents, they may mean the film ultimately holds less appeal for adults who accompany their pre-teen daughters. Big had a bittersweet quality that grabbed adults; 13 Going On 30 is a less convincing, more happily-ever-after kind of fairy tale. The soundtrack, comprised of 1980s pop songs, should be a big seller.

The story opens in1987. Thirteen-year old Jenna (Allen) is a typically shy, gawky adolescent who yearns to be cool, like the six snobbish girls who comprise the in-crowd at her school. Jenna and her best friend Matt (Marquette) are anything but cool.

After a particularly humiliating brush-off by brat pack queen Lucy at Jenna's own birthday party, Jenna makes a fervent wish: to be 30 years old. She awakens next morning to discover that she is. As now played by Garner, she is also gorgeous, popular and a successful Manhattan magazine editor. She has no idea how she got where she is, however, or what has happened in the intervening 17 years.

After some initial trepidation, she begins to enjoy her new life. She gets the hang of her job, delights in her trendy new wardrobe, and generally has the world at her feet. Although former nemesis Lucy (played as an adult by Greer) is now her best friend, Jenna learns that she and her old buddy Matt (Ruffalo) are no longer close. Although he, too, lives in New York, they travel in different circles.

As Jenna learns more about her 30-year old self -and how she got to be the person she is today -she begins to have second thoughts. But the real clincher is Matt, who is about to be married. In trying to restart their friendship, Jenna realises that she is in love with him.

Garner, probably best known for her role on TV series Alias, brings an undeniable innocence, vulnerability and charm to her first lead movie role, but she lacks a certain nuance that would have made the character totally believable. Hanks had that quality in spades; his kid-in-an-adult's-body was remarkably natural and never felt forced. Garner is so busy being ingratiating that she doesn't seem completely real.

A couple of opportunities for physical comedy are wasted. The adult Jenna easily darts all over the place in high heels, whereas a kid presumably would need some practice to master the art. And whereas one might expect a 13-year old to be shy, embarrassed, yearning, curious or anxious about the prospect of sex -- in the film's early scenes, Allen seems all of these things at once -the adult Jenna acts a little too young and seems to find the thought of even kissing a boy "icky" in the way a ten-year old might.

Prod cos: Revolution Studios, Roth/Arnold Production
US dist:
Columbia Pictures
Intl dist:
Exec prods:
Todd Garner, Dan Kolsrud
Susan Arnold and Donna Arkoff Roth and by Gina Matthews
Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa
Don Burgess
Pro des:
Garreth Stover
Susan Littenberg
Theodore Shapiro
Main cast:
Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Christa B. Allen, Sean Marquette, Kathy Baker