Picks and Pans Review: 13 Going on 30

UPDATED 05/03/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/03/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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This is Garner's Pretty Woman, the movie that will make her America's next sweetheart. You can even spot the exact moment it happens: When Garner's newly adult character in this story—think Big but about a girl—discovers that all her childhood dreams have come true, she leans against a doorway and flashes a warm, how'd-I-get-so-lucky smile. There's magic, the kind only a few stars can radiate, in that smile.

13 Going on 30, directed with a sweet touch by Gary Winick (Tadpole), is an immensely likable if unchallenging comedy. At her 13th-birthday party, dweeby, retainer-wearing Jenna Rink (a terrific Christa B. Allen) wishes that she was 30 with the angst of adolescence behind her. Poof! She wakes up to find herself transformed into lovely, grown-up Garner, living in a chic Manhattan apartment, working as a top editor at a glamorous fashion monthly and dating a pro hockey star whose nick-name for her is "Sweetbottom." The hitch: Jenna still feels as if she's 13. And she is horrified to learn that her adult self is considered a stuck-up diva.

The problem with 13 is that Garner is required to act more like a 7-year-old than a teenager. When distressed, she climbs into bed with her parents. Cute, but it wouldn't happen. That's nitpicking, though, about what is clearly meant to be a fairy tale and one with a worthy message at that: To thine own self be true. In addition to Garner, Ruffalo (In the Cut) is excellent as the guy Jenna regrets having left behind. Greer is an amusing ball of jangled nerves as Jenna's duplicitous best friend, and Serkis (The Lord of the Rings) offers a serviceable Tim Curry imitation as her effete British boss. (PG-13)

ROMANTIC COMEDY

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