Monday, December 30, 2013

Coming of Age

Director: Penny Marshall
Cast: Tom Hanks, Robert Loggia, Elizabeth Perkins, Mercedes Ruehl, John Heard
Released: June 3, 1988

Oscar nominations:
Best Actor - Tom Hanks (lost to Dustin Hoffman for Rain Man)
Best Original Screenplay - Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg (lost to Ronald Bass and Gary Morrow for Rain Man)

13 Going on 30
Director: Gary Winick
Cast: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis
Released: April 23, 2004
Viewed in theaters: April 30, 2004

Big is about a thirteen-year-old named Josh Baskin (David Moscow) who wishes he were older and wakes up as a thirty-year old (Tom Hanks). 13 Going on 30 is about a thirteen-year-old named Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) who wishes she were older and wakes up as a thirty-year-old (Jennifer Garner). Despite having the same premise and similar themes, these movies are quite different (which was a smart move for 13 so it wouldn't look like a total copy cat!) 

Young Charlotte Grayson
The set up for both movies kinda follows the same pattern. Both of them take place in the '80s (I'll get back to that) and neither Josh or Jenna are very popular, although they wished they were, especially Jenna who longs to be part of a group of popular girls called the Six Chicks, even though they only take advantage of her by making her do their homework, led by a girl named Tom-Tom (and after seeing this movie 3 or 4 times, I still have no idea why she was called that because we later learn her real name is Lucy). Fun trivia fact: one of the Six Chicks was played by Ashley Benson aka Hannah Marin from Pretty Little Liars. Jenna's best friend and next-door-neighbor, Matty, smartly points out to her that she can't be a Six Chick because they already have their allotted number of girls in their clique. Another fun fact: young Jenna is played by Christa B. Allen who plays Charlotte on Revenge, a show I stopped watching in the middle of its second season because it just got so ridiculous and I just didn't care anymore. I recognized her name in the credits and kept looking for her, thinking she was one of the Six Chicks; it never occurred to me that she was playing the younger version of the main character! Obviously I didn't recognize her at all! I probably didn't because she was eight years younger and had this horrible '80s hair style and has a completely different wardrobe from Charlotte's. For her 13th birthday, Jenna invites Matty and all the popular kids from her school only to find herself being ditched by them and she blames Matty for this.

In Big, Josh has a crush on an older girl (I'm assuming she was older...she was at least a foot taller than he was!) and his best friend and next-door-neighbor (hmm, sound familiar?), Billy, confirms with him that she broke up with her boyfriend and is therefore available. While at a carnival with his parents, Josh sees his crush with a guy (obviously on a date) and tries to impress her by saying he's ridden the roller coaster they're in line for many times, only to find out that he is too short to go on it. Ouch. 

Now we're to the part where Josh and Jenna make their wishes. I think it was more effective in Big, but was more accurate in 13. Let me explain: In Big, while at the carnival, Josh sees a fortune teller machine, similar to an arcade machine, and it has the creepiest head in it. The fortune teller's name is Zoltar and when you put a quarter in it, it tells you to make a wish, then spits out a card saying, "Your wish has been granted." With the grotesque puppet head and ominous mood made already by a thunderstorm, the scene is made even more creepy when Josh looks down and sees that the machine has been unplugged all along! When Josh makes his wish, he says, "I wish I were big." Now, if I were Zoltar, I would assume he meant that he wished he had more physical mass, not older, but I guess the movie wouldn't sound as good if it were called "Older", but that's just a little nit-pick. In 13, Matty has made Jenna her own "dream house" (he totally loves her) and has included a packet of fairy wishing dust which seemed very contrived, but at least when she made her wish, she was very precise, saying, "I wish I were 30, flirty, and thriving." 

We next have our scene where the characters wake up the next day and discover what has happened to them. This scene is done much better in Big. In 13, it felt like they were trying not to totally copy Big for this scene, but they still kinda do. It's funnier in Big as he's trying to put on his own clothes only to find he can't fit in them and when his mom (Mercedes Ruehl) asks him a question from downstairs he replies with a deeper voice. They try to make it funny in 13, but it goes on a little too long as she sees a guy only wearing a towel coming out of her bathroom and freaks out when she hears a cell phone. 

The biggest difference in these movies is the time setting. For Josh, it's still the same year as it was when he was a kid, 1988, and everyone around him is still the same age. He has literally skipped from being 13 to 30. For Jenna, it is 2004 and everyone else has grown up around her and she already has an established job at Poise magazine and has an apartment in New York. She already has lived her life (and discovers that she was popular in high school and became friends with the Six Chicks and now works with Lucy (the girl called Tom-Tom (Judy Greer)). She just doesn't remember any of it and soon finds out she's not a very nice person, having done terrible things, including pushing Matty out of her life because she got too cool for him. This scenario is a little less freaky in 13 as nobody is surprised that Jenna is older, but they do wonder why she's acting all weird. Plus, she already has a job and apartment she doesn't have to worry about. It's a little more scary for Josh in Big. When he tries to tell his mom what happened, she gets freaked out that a strange man is in her home and is talking about her son and thinks Josh has been kidnapped. The only person who knows the truth about Josh's identity is Billy who is skeptical only until Josh starts singing a song they always sing together. He helps Josh by acquiring his dad's clothes for him, breaking into his family's emergency cash stack for Josh to stay at a crappy hotel in New York. Josh doesn't have the luxury of having a doorman or a walk-in closet full of designer dresses, shoes, and purses like Jenna has. Instead he has screaming neighbors, gunshots outside his window, and a crappy room. Big definitely explores a darker side. There's a bit of a dark side in 13 when Jenna realizes she was a major bitch in her blocked-out years and someone who turned on her friends and family and sold out her own place of employment by helping out the competition, Sparkle magazine. That said, Jenna never has to fear for her life or safety like Josh, plus her parents aren't out there worrying about their daughter and what's happened to her. I never understood why the Baskins just didn't call the police and say that their son was missing. Unless they did and I just totally missed that. Josh tries to ease their minds by calling them and saying their son was okay and writing them letters saying he was being treated well and it was just like summer camp. Even though they put a missing child photo of him on the side of a milk carton (oh, how '80s!), it still didn't feel like they were doing enough to find him. And he was gone for at least a month...that's a long time for your kid to go missing! In this regard, I think 13 had more free reign to not have to worry about stuff like that and maybe their method made more sense, but it was much more interesting in Big. It's one thing to want to be a certain age, but skip ahead (or back) to the year when you will be (or were) that age, but it's another to be a totally different age in the present year. Or at least, I can only imagine! 

I mentioned earlier that I would discuss the setting of the '80s. Obviously Big is set there throughout the whole movie as well as was filmed in the '80s, however, 13 Going on 30 seems to have a lot more fun with the decade...even when it is set in 2004. They go through all the great '80s songs: "Thriller", "Jessie's Girl", "Burning Down the House", Madonna's "Crazy For You", "Love is a Battlefield", "Everybody Have Fun Tonight", and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." That annoying Liz Phair song, that played everywhere in '04 was the only current song they had. There's not that many big '80s hits in Big and one of the songs sounded a lot like the song Will Smith wrote for Men in Black...and then I learned that he sampled from a song called "Forget Me Nots" and that's the song that plays when Tom Hanks and Elizabeth Perkins are jumping on the trampoline. Seeing that as I recognized it as the Will Smith song and not the '80s song should probably provide a clue that it wasn't a huge '80s hit...not in the way the songs in 13 are. That movie also has fun with the fashion: they dress young Jenna and the Six Chicks in some of the most ridiculous, but most amazing '80s fashions. Josh's crush wears a very '80s outfit and is decked out in denim, crimped hair, and big plastic earrings. And they weren't even trying to be cute and clever like they were in 13; it's so awesome. Seeing as Big was filmed in the '80s, it was just the current decade for them and they didn't have the fun with it as they did with 13 Going on 30. They had yet to realize what an awesome decade for fashion and music they were dealing with!

Josh gets a job at a toy company and when the president (Robert Loggia) sees how knowledgeable he his about toys, he is quickly promoted to Vice President, much to the chagrin of the other employees. His salary raises significantly and he is able to afford his own loft complete with a bunch of toys. Both movies have a musical number they're both known for: the playing of "Heart and Soul" on a floor piano in FAO Schwarz in Big and the "Thriller" dance scene in 13 when Jenna is trying to revive a dying party to impress her boss (Andy Serkis) which turns into a flash mob. Both scenes are the highlights of their movies.

Movies like these would not be complete with a romance. In Big, fellow co-worker, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), takes a liking to Josh even though she finds him a bit odd when he shows up to a party wearing a ridiculous white suit and eats the baby corn like regular corn. Even when he takes her back to his apartment filled with toys, she is only a little taken aback, but still, ironically, finds him more of an adult than her ex (John Heard). In her new world, Jenna already has a boyfriend, a good-looking hockey player who's also really dumb. She meets back up with Matty (Mark Ruffalo) who tells her they haven't spoken since high school and she finds out about her past from him. They rekindle their friendship and Jenna is crushed to learn that he is getting engaged to another woman and is moving to Chicago.

A big difference between these two movies (there are more than one!) is how they deal with sex. Jenna never has sex when she is in her adult body, but Josh does (and is quite chipper the next day). This is a little bit disturbing because while Jenna still thinks of herself as a 13-year-old, she has already lived her entire life up to 30 (even though she doesn't remember it) and has already had experience with guys and sex seeing as she has a boyfriend and found out she had an affair with a married man (even though she doesn't remember any of it). Josh is just a 13-year-old in an adult body and has had no experience so it's a little creepy to think Susan had sex with a 13-year-old, even though he looked like an adult.

Both movies remind us that these adults are really still kids. Josh still hangs with Billy and they get pizza, ice cream sundaes, spray each other with Silly String, and snicker when people think Billy is Josh's son. And let's not forget all the toys he gets to play with! There's a hilarious scene in 13 Going on 30 when Lucy tells Jenna that a hot guy in a restaurant is checking her out and she decides to talk to him. She goes past the attractive guy Lucy was talking about only to stop in front of a 13 year old boy and starts talking to him and asks for his number. She also makes friends with a 13-year-old girl who lives in her apartment and invites her and her friends over for a sleepover and proclaims the reason she looks good in her new dress is because of her "amazing boobs!"

In Big, at the beginning of his transformation, Josh wants nothing more than to go back to his old self, but finds out that it will take a month before he gets back any information on where the carnival with the fortune teller is. (It left town the next day). But he likes his life as an adult and isn't sure he wants to go back to a kid until Billy puts some perspective into him. In 30, Jenna is resigned that this is where she now is in her life and will have to deal with the repercussions of being who she was and losing Matty. Of course both movies both end up with them going back to their 13-year-old selves.

I highly recommend both movies; Big is more of a classic, but I think 13 Going on 30 is very cute and Jennifer Garner is very charming as Jenna. It's a very un-Sydney Bristow-like role, but some of the outfits reminded of clothes Sydney would wear for her undercover jobs! Especially when she had her hair up in pigtails with these long chopsticks...those would make great weapons for Syd!  Oh, and if you love the '80s, you should definitely check out both movies! 

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