All The Lies (And A Few Truths) 13 Going On 30 Taught Us About Turning 30

The hit romcom turns 20 this year.

Jennifer Garner

by Isobel Lewis |
Published on

Want to feel old? 13 Going On 30, Jennifer Garner’s fan-favourite noughties romcom, turns 20 this summer. Best remembered for the ‘Thriller’ dance and *that* Versace dress, the film, about a teenage girl who wakes up one day in the body of her 30-year-old self, is a classic of the romcom canon, and one that viewers still regularly return to two decades later.

The year is 1987 and Jenna Rink is an unpopular 13-year-old girl fed up with being a teenager. Then one night, she goes to sleep and wakes up in 2004, aged 30. Young Jenna (Christa B Allen) has always dreamed of being 'thirty, flirty and thriving,' and adult Jenna (Jennifer) appears to have achieved that. She’s a successful editor at a fashion magazine, with a gorgeous New York apartment AND a hot sports player boyfriend. She can drink AND her boobs fill out her dress. For any 13-year-old, it sounds like a dream, right?

Wrong. Jenna soon learns that her grown-up self lost a lot in her journey to be successful. As a teenager, Jenna iced out her supportive BFF Matt in her quest to be the popular ‘cool girl’. She succeeded, and now, as an adult, has continued on to success by pushing away her friends and parents, cheating on her partner and stealing ideas at work. With her teenage brain still in her head, Jenna tracks down Matt (Mark Ruffalo) and sets out to right wrongs and release her inner child (or teen).

Ahead of the 20-year anniversary, the stars of 30 Going On 30, Garner, Ruffalo and Judy Greer, reunited on Instagram to reminisce about the romcom. In the video, Ruffalo said that even in 2024, viewers recognise him for this film as much as his Marvel roles. ‘There’s two types of people in this world. There’s Hulk people, and there’s 13 Going On 30 people, and I get equal amounts,' he said. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of one of the highest grossing movie franchises of all time – a lot of people are going to remember you for the romcom they watched as teens.

Twenty years on, 13 Going On 30 still has influence on its loyal fans, even if the film’s depiction of life in your 30s doesn’t quite ring true in the modern day. Of course, there’s the movie’s heavily discussed, romanticised depiction of a career in journalism. Along with Sex and the City, Never Been Kissed and How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, the film was responsible for swaying a generation of women towards a career in journalism on the premise of a luxe lifestyle. The reality? Well, it’s not exactly that, let’s say that.

But even within the world of the 90s/00s romcom, Jenna’s achievements feel particularly unrealistic. The co-editor of a major fashion magazine? At the age of 30? The only thing that seems more unachievable is that spacious, luxurious New York apartment, which puts Bridget Jones’s much lusted after Borough Market flat to shame. Even in 2004, nobody is getting that on an editor’s salary, surely.

Initially, 13 Going On 30 tells us that the only way to achieve success is being, well, a bit of a bitch. And not just a bitch – one who engages in corporate espionage! As an adult, Jenna pushes away everyone she knows and gets to the top, but there is a way to find success while not pulling up ladders behind you, pushing away your loved ones and losing your entire sense of self to your career.

Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo and Judy Greer at the premiere of 13 Going on 30
Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo and Judy Greer at the premiere ©Getty Images

One of 13 Going On 30’s lesser-discussed elements is the romance between Jenna and Matty. It’s the classic ‘one that got away’. On screen, it’s sweet; who among us hasn’t thought wistfully about our teenage crushes and wondered where they are now? But just because something is good romcom fodder, that doesn’t mean it always works in real life. Let’s be honest – most of us should not end up with the people we dated long before we developed a prefrontal cortex. Like, ever.

Still, there are a lot of things that the film gets right about getting older. Adult Jenna might be very successful, but she’s lost everyone she loves in the process. Most of us aren’t quite so conniving, but drifting away from the people who care about you, either by prioritising work or simply when adult life catches up with you, is easily done.

In the age of social media, people are more isolated than ever. Adult Jenna, it turns out, ‘usually ignores’ her neighbours, to the point where one of them asks, ‘Why are you talking to me?’ when she says hi in the lift. A 2022 study found that less than half of Brits don’t know their neighbours' names; in 2024, Jenna would likely have her headphones in, listening to a podcast instead of chatting.

It takes the child-like wonder of a teenager for Jenna to realise what she wants to really do with her life. Yes, some of those ideas might be a little unrealistic, but the message of 13 Going On 30 is not that you’ll be a failure if you’re not at the top of your game. In some ways – if not all – ways, we could all do with being a bit more Jenna.

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