TV & Movies

I Just Rewatched ‘13 Going on 30’—Here’s What I Think Now That I’m Closer to 30 Than 13

written by MICHELLE LEMA
Source: Columbia Pictures
Source: Columbia Pictures

The very real existence of adult teenage angst has been on my mind these days, especially with Olivia Rodrigo’s new album Guts playing on repeat in my headphones. I’ve been on a journey to revisit my favorite shows and fashion trends of my teenage years, including rewatching the 2004 movie 13 Going on 30. The last time I watched the movie I was actually a teenager, and now I am able to watch it with the wise and (still) angsty eyes of someone who has entered their 30s. I thought I left my teenage self in the past the moment I went off to college, but the truth is that my inner teenager is still there. She’s just not consulted as much anymore. The rom-com stylings of Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, who play Jenna and Matt in the movie, helped me recognize this, and a few other things, too. Here are 13 thoughts I had while watching 13 Going on 30 this time around:


1. We are all, in part, the teenager we used to be.

Turning 13 often means entering an era that is stuck between childhood and pre-adulthood. At the beginning of 13 Going on 30, teenager Jenna absolutely cannot wait to turn 30, and says things like, “I don’t want to be original, I want to be cool” and “I don’t want to be beautiful in my own way.” She just wants to fit in and is embarrassed by the things that make her stand out. Jenna’s outlook at such a young age made me sad because I remember feeling the same way. I didn’t yet know that the things that made me unique and original were actually my strengths. That insecure teenager within us is always wondering what their life will be like next, and the answers are never certain. It’s important to recognize when these feelings pop up and acknowledge their roots in our childhood.



2. Having a giant apartment and an office with a door is a luxury.

I am extremely happy for 30-year-old Jenna and her gigantic apartment, but my first thought in the scene where she wakes up and tumbles around her place was, “Wow my apartment is not that big.” Her life, at least at first, seems to reflect what the magazine she loved as a teenager proclaims: “Thirty, flirty and thriving, where the 30s are the best years of your life.” I completely agree that your 30s are for thriving, but I don’t think you have to have the perfect apartment, job, and wardrobe (shout out to the walk-in closet scenes, though) to be thriving. In fact, you can have all of these things and not be thriving at all, which is a central theme of the movie.

Later, when Jenna gets to her workplace and learns she’s now an editor of Poise magazine, she finds her office, which has a door, and windows. I don’t know about everyone out there, but even as I progress in my career, an office with a view is a rarity in the age of communal workspaces and every company trying to make their office look like a startup in Silicon Valley to promote “creativity.” I yearn for the day when, like Jenna, I can close my office door and scroll through TikTok in peace for a moment. But then again, maybe I’d miss rolling my chair over to chat with a friend who is two feet away in our shared desk space.


3. One should never walk barefoot in NYC.

This point perhaps speaks for itself, but I had to note it because it was one of the strongest reactions I had throughout the entire movie. For those who need a refresher, there is a scene in which Jenna is walking with Matt through New York City, holding her heels and walking barefoot. Now, I’m no doctor, but I think this carefree stroll in the city is kind of gross and perhaps misguided. I love NYC with all my heart, but I would not walk amid her streets barefoot. However, it makes sense for the character, who is but an innocent 13-year-old trapped in a 30-year-old’s body.


4. Getting your dream job is a trap.

In some workplaces, the fear of making a mistake, the pressure of proving yourself, and the stress of juggling a million things at once can really take a toll on your adult self (and your inner teenager). That feeling can stick with a person at every level, and start a cycle of bad management and mistrust among coworkers. In the movie, Jenna’s 30-year-old self has achieved her dream job, but she’s resorted to stealing ideas and selling out to competitors. In today’s society, it’s not hard to fall into similar behavior in order to survive corporate environments, which often readily encourage this culture. How does one become successful but not fall prey to a toxic environment? Jenna seems to find a way by engaging in teamwork and following what she’s passionate about, which is a good place to start.

While getting your dream job can be a trap, it can also have its perks, as Jenna seems to be able to go all over the city, and even take a train trip to her childhood home outside of the city, without having to do any work for hours at a time. Maybe it’s her 13-year-old mindset, but I kept thinking, how is this possible? In a world where our movements are constantly tracked, stepping away constantly in a cutthroat environment like Poise can mean certain failure. And yet, it’s definitely the healthiest thing to do. Jenna in 13 Going on 30 was figuring out work-life balance well before it was openly talked about in the workplace.




5. Connecting with younger generations is important.

One of the sweetest moments of the movie is when adult Jenna encounters a 13-year-old neighbor in her apartment building’s elevator. The neighbor is shocked that Jenna spoke to her, and they bond over things like school and work and crushes. It made me think about how important it is to connect with younger and older people, to try and understand what their generation is going through. One of my least favorite things as a teenager was when adults would complain about my generation, or generally not try to understand us. I vow on my 13 Going on 30 (antique) DVD set and also in this article that I shall not be one of those people who gets older and forgets. I will do my best to support and raise up the younger generations who are taking on this intimidating world.


6. Real friends aren’t always your first friends.

There’s a scene in which young Jenna has a party and all the girls in the school enter her house and throw their coats on her. On her birthday. If that isn’t a realistic interpretation of middle school, I don’t know what is. Watching it, I had a visceral memory of a friend throwing her coat on me, thinking I was a coat rack backstage during a play, when in fact I was merely a shy kid who was standing rigidly still in the dark. That person who threw their coat on me eventually became one of my best, most trusted friends. Some friends you keep, and some you don’t. And sometimes you have a friend named Lucy who steals your job at Sparkle.




7. Do-overs aren’t real… unless you encounter magic time-traveling dust.

There’s a scene in which adult Jenna goes to see her parents and asks her mom, “If you could have one do-over what would it be?” Of course, her mom says “nothing” because then she wouldn’t have been able to learn from her mistakes. Jenna does get a do-over because of the magic that sent her to her 30s, which is never explained or acknowledged at all, but I have made my peace with that plot hole. Adult Jenna, upon learning about how her life has turned out, has a lot of things she wants to do over. She says, “I got everything I ever wanted,” but is devastated by the person she has become. While we can’t turn back time and have a do-over, we can change and do better, and sometimes it just takes a reminder of who we used to be to do that.


8. Jennifer Garner laughing in front of a wind machine with leaves swirling around her is the definition of fall.

If you’ve seen the movie recently, you will know this moment. If not, take a moment to think about sweet Jennifer Garner, her character in her element at a photo shoot with her high school BFF, standing in front of a wind machine. Fall leaves are thrown into the air and she laughs as if she’s back in her teenage years, just having fun for the hell of it. It’s darling, it’s charming, and it’s enough to make you want to roll in a pile of leaves and cackle maniacally as you put off work, responsibilities, and chores.


9. Montages and big speeches in rom-coms always work.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. I love a montage. This movie has several, including a shopping montage and a photography montage. A montage always works, especially if the accompanying music is good. I also love a big speech moment, like when Jenna pitches her new vision for Poise magazine and proclaims: “Real women. These are the women we look up to.” Soon after, we see another climatic montage moment that’s framed by the urgency of an impending wedding that is literally and inexplicably, the next day. (Side note: I appreciated that although Matty was getting married, Jenna didn’t go to the wedding to break them up or totally ruin their wedding day.) Truth be told, I wouldn’t have been mad if even more montages were in this movie.


10. Always read documents before you sign them.

Never sign a release for your photography without confirming all the facts. Never leave confidential papers in your top desk drawer for someone who is plotting against you to find. This movie is basically a PSA for the importance of storing confidential documents properly, even though the Sparkle envelopes that Jenna hid moved the story along, revealing who she really was as an adult. And the contract Matty signed also moved the story along, allowing Lucy to double-cross Jenna. But still, I will be taking note of these pitfalls.


11. The dream house is overrated.

As Matt says, “You can’t always get the dream house.” But then Jenna and Matty do get the actual dream house in the end, so I suppose he was proven wrong. The dream house in question is very similar to the Barbie dream house, a version of which Matty makes for Jenna when she turns 13 that, along with glitter, becomes the magical inciting incident of the movie. Overall, I think the movie is trying to tell us that our goals are not always sound. We may achieve everything we thought we ever wanted and realize that we wanted something else. I suppose that’s the incredibly confusing and exciting part of life we all get to experience together. I hope to remember that the dream house is not all that it seems, or promises to deliver.




12. Soulmates don’t exist.

The more I watch my favorite rom-coms, romances, and coming-of-age stories, the more I’m convinced that we don’t have just one soulmate. Matty says to Jenna, “Soulmate? I don’t know if I believe in those. I think that’s kind of naive.” And while I won’t go so far as to say that the concept of soulmates is naive, I do think it can be a limiting way to view partners and friendships. If we’re busy seeking out The One, we might just miss all the other loves of our lives that come in and out of view as we change and grow. Matt and Jenna in 13 Going on 30 are their own version of soulmates—two best friends who went on different paths and merged again. I am cheering for them, and fully believe their fictional characters are still together. Regardless, I will always wonder if Jenna ever told Matt about the time she was transported into her 30-year-old body via magic and then back again. We’ll never know.


13. Being 30 is not that different from being 13.

We are currently part of an age in which sequels where main characters are in their 50s and 60s and beyond are entering the market and having success. From series like And Just Like That… to shows like Grace & Frankie, we want to see these generations thrive just as much as we wanted to see Jenna thrive in 13 Going on 30. When we’re younger, it’s important to see representations of women that defy the notion that aging is something to fear, because it shows that exciting things are ahead in our own lives. And while we may all age by the numbers, we are in part the versions of ourselves that came before us. So when I am feeling disconnected, I might just try to check in with my 13-year-old self. And when I do, I will stand still somewhere, quietly listening, hoping someone throws a coat on me.