Jennifer Garner has played many iconic roles throughout her acting career, but perhaps the most beloved was her portrayal of Jenna Rink in the 2004 romantic comedy 13 Going on 30. Unbeknownst to her at the time, in that role, Jennifer Garner created a road map for how young millennial girls would envision their 30s. Turning 3-0 was suddenly a glamorous milestone, one that would be filled with turquoise dresses and cute himbo boyfriends. But what actually happens when you turn 30? Or more importantly, how do you really feel when you are about to hit your third decade? On this week’s episode of The Cut podcast, Avery Trufelman discusses her imminent exit from her 20s, and how the Jennifer Garner rom-com shaped her sentiment toward it all.
Listen below, and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. You can also find the full transcript below.
[13 Going on 30 intro music plays]
JAZ: This music brings me right back.
AVERY: To the ’80s? How old are you?
JAZ: No, but I remember watching this, you know, at 13.
AVERY: The Cut podcast team, which is Allison, Jazmin, Parker, and I, had a remote movie night to watch 13 Going on 30.
JAZ: I loved this movie. My parents told me that I was “13 Going on 30” all the time because I was a smart-ass.
ALLISON: Jazmin, how old are you?
JAZ: I’m 30.
ALLISON: Oh my gosh.
AVERY: I’m the baby!
ALLISON: You are the baby.
PARKER: The baby.
AVERY: We’re basically all the same age, but this week I’m turning 30 which feels like a huge deal to me! In part because of 13 Going on 30.
AVERY: My whole life, I think because of this movie, I was super amped on it. I was like, “When I’m 30, I’ll be 30, flirty, and thriving.” Now that it is breathing down my neck I’m terrified and like, “I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about it.”
AVERY: Did 30 feel like a big deal for you?
PARKER: No, I think I was still scrambling and doing the same things I was doing at like 28, 29. I think it hit my mom. When she turned 30, she was pregnant with me. I’m like, Oh, I don’t have that milestone.
JAZ: My 30th birthday was really sad. I really wanted it to be 13 Going on 30–themed, but it happened during COVID and it was just so womp-womp. It was the moment, it was almost like night and day, that my mom started pushing me about kids.
JAZ: It was like a flipped switch.
AVERY: I really do not want to start thinking about if I should try to have kids. Or get married. Or settle down, whatever that means. I’m really grateful for where I am right now. I’ve been so lucky. I just want to keep focusing on work, and on my friends, and having fun. I think that’s why I wanted to revisit this movie, 13 Going on 30. This movie was the earliest impression I had of what 30 meant. It showed me that being 30 was fun and glamorous and exciting. There wasn’t that element of fear or pressure or anxiety. At least, from what I remember of the movie.
AVERY: I haven’t seen this film since I was 13.
ALLISON: When did this movie come out?
AVERY: If you haven’t seen 13 Going on 30, it’s totally fun. It starts in the ’80s, and we meet Jenna Rink on the day of her 13th birthday. Jenna has invited all the mean popular girls to her party. As soon as they arrive, her best friend, Matt, proceeds to be a total weirdo. He starts dancing alone to Talking Heads.
PARKER: I’ve been the one who has played Talking Heads at a party and not read the room.
AVERY: Jenna gets embarrassed by Matt, cruelly teases him in front of all the popular girls. Then the popular girls play a mean prank and lock Jenna in the closet at her own party. That’s when Jenna makes a wish, a mantra she repeats, “30 and flirty and thriving.” Magically, Jenna gets her wish. She wakes up as Jennifer Garner, a 30-year-old with amazing cheekbones and a closet full of designer shoes. She has a kick-ass job as a big-time fashion-magazine editor, a schedule packed with parties, and a massive condo that I would definitely redecorate.
AVERY: It’s decorated like a hotel?
ALLISON: The circle wallpaper.
JAZ: Magazine people have no actual taste.
ALLISON: How dare you? We have taste.
AVERY: That’s us now!
JAZ: I’m kidding.
AVERY: We are technically magazine people now, kind of. Jazmin and Parker and Allison and I have, to a way lesser degree, ended up sort of living Jenna’s life! Just in that we are all single and living in New York City and working in media.
JAZ: I’m a boss-ass bitch. I’m just as successful as this bitch!
AVERY: Making it work in media is not what the movie makes it out to be.
JAZ: How come we don’t get cars sent to us to pick us up and take us to work?
PARKER: I’m going to blame this one on COVID.
AVERY: But then the film took a turn from the way I remembered it. When I was 13, I was mostly struck by this exciting fantasy of adulthood. That was my salient takeaway: “Wow, 30, flirty, and thriving.” Rewatching it now, I realized I more or less forgot the middle part of the movie. The part where Jenna realizes that her older self has become a narcissistic and conniving and vindictive bitch. She has focused so narrowly on building her glamorous life that her existence is ultimately shallow and empty. She doesn’t have anyone to share it with. This is always the panacea in movies, right? That romantic love is the antidote to a vapid, materialistic existence. So! Jenna goes searching for her childhood friend Matt.
PARKER Oh, there’s our boy, Matty!
AVERY: Matt and Jenna reconnect, and he helps Jenna remember the core of who she really is, apart from the superficial world of her job. They fall in love. But it’s too late! Matt is about to get married to someone else. On Matt’s wedding day, Jenna cries and wishes she could have made different choices. Which is when she is transported magically back into the closet at her 13th-birthday party. She leaps out, kisses 13-year-old Matt smack on the lips. Together they run right into a flash-forward of them at 30, getting married to each other.
PARKER: How does she know that after that moment, they’ll be
AVERY: They bought a house.
PARKER: They bought a house!
AVERY: I reckon when I saw this as a kid, I found this ending satisfying and assuring. Rewatching it now, I found myself over analyzing it, wondering if the ending is actually totally at odds with the rest of the movie? In this new, revised future where Matt and Jenna get married, does Jenna still work for the magazine? What about her cool career? Her experimental wardrobe? All the parties? That was all the fun stuff in the movie! All the stuff I wanted 30 to be. That I still want 30 to be. I want all the exciting, thrilling parts, without being selfish and shallow. I don’t know if this is truly possible. It’s something I lose sleep over. It’s been happening more and more recently. Every time I hear about another friend getting engaged or buying a house or having a kid. Any one of these milestones that just seems eons away from where I’m at. It just makes me think, “Am I the bad Jenna?” Will I also suddenly look back at my shallow life full of regret and it will be too late? I know, it’s a movie. It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie!
ALLISON: Were the writers incorporating their own experience of being 30?
PARKER: Their own dreams about being …
ALLISON: Their own dreams about being 30.
AVERY: Only one way to find out.
AVERY: Were you like 29 when you were writing this movie? How old were you?
JOSH: I think we were 28? 29? Something like that.
AVERY: Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa are the writing team behind 13 Going on 30.
CATHY: Josh and I had dated for a long time. We had a breakup a little bit before we wrote the movie, and then we got back together and got married. So I think that we had that in our minds, that you could make a change and pivot.
AVERY: I’m about to turn 30 and hearing about where you are at writing this movie, I’m like, “Oh my God, you are writing a movie.” You were about to get married. Holy shit. Like you were doing all of the things that one is supposed to do. It seemed like your life was sort of snapping into place.
CATHY: We were working really hard at that time at these projects that we loved and we were dating and spending all of our time together. Our life was very consolidated.
JOSH: You’re looking at it, basically.
AVERY: Did you have any existential angst about crossing over that threshold of 30?
CATHY: For sure. To begin to accept yourself as an adult is a big process.
JOSH: There was a line where she [Jenna] comes to Matt for the first time as an adult and says, “You’ve got to help me.” And Matt says, “I get it. You’ve turned 30 and your whole life is about Cosmos and shoes …” There was a reality to that. This could play as a movie about a 30-year-old at a crossroads, having a meltdown.
AVERY: What did your 30s mean to you?
JOSH: I think our 30s were about getting married. It became about family for us. I think a lot of people have that experience. It’s your friends and your career. Then there is that crossroads where you start thinking about family and you start thinking about who you want to spend the rest of your life with. That’s really cause to assess.
AVERY: Oh, man, you’re kind of scaring me.
AVERY: This was kind of exactly what I did not want to hear. I really did not want to hear that 30s is about pivoting away from friends and career. Maybe that’s the truth and I’m trying to stay in my 20s forever? Josh and Cathy did it, make great work and they had kids and it seems like they didn’t really have to choose between work and life. If you define having a life by having a family. I do truly feel like being 30 now is very different from when Josh and Cathy were 30.
KAYLEEN: Obviously, marriage rates are down, birth rates are down. People have more job insecurity than ever.
AVERY: Kayleen Schaefer is the author of But You’re Still So Young, which just came out this year. Which is about how the 30s, what we think of them, and how we talk about them, are changing now that we have more student debt, and less job security, lower wages, and this big fat pandemic to magnify all of it.
KAYLEEN: The stats aren’t that comforting when you’re still looking around at what your mom’s telling you or other people’s social media posts and thinking, Am I doing this wrong?
AVERY: That’s the thing I really appreciate about your book. It’s not about the stats, it’s about a feeling. I know philosophically, I really don’t care. I know philosophically that I don’t care if I get married or have kids.
AVERY: Kayleen knows what it is. In her book, she describes how sociologists in the 1950s distilled the big looming decisions of adulthood down to a five-step checklist.
KAYLEEN: Number one is completing school. Number two is leaving home. Number three is marriage, number four is becoming financially independent, and number five is having kids.
AVERY: Completing school, leaving home, financial independence, marriage, and kids. You cannot rattle off this list without seeing how you stack up.
KAYLEEN: Those are the five steps. In the ’50s, most people had checked these off in their late teens or early 20s and 30s, certainly. In 1975, 45 percent of people had checked all five of those boxes by the time they were 30. In 2006, only 24 percent of people had checked that off by age 34.
AVERY: Why is the mythology from the 1950s still so pervasive?
KAYLEEN: That’s a great question, because I was really confused. I kept asking myself, why do I keep looking toward this 1950s model? I grew up in the ’80s. It shouldn’t even matter to me at all, it was 30 years before I started growing up. There’s a sense that things were easier in the 1950s. If you were white and you were a male, they certainly were. If you had these five steps, it was easier and it was a script.
AVERY: This is clearly not an adequate reason to hold on to this list. There is no good reason why the mythology persists. Especially now that all the items on this checklist have become prizes. They’re not steps anymore, they’re luxuries.
KAYLEEN: On one hand, it’s really cool to say we have choices. But you’re also sort of wondering, do I not want these things because there’s no way I can achieve them?
AVERY: Sometimes I let myself dream. When I pass a brownstone with beautiful light fixtures in the windows. Or I see a chatty little kid in a funky outfit. What would that be like? Could I ever afford that? As a single person? It is a matter of money, yes. Or is it just about priorities? To continue with this sort of Carrie Bradshaw questions-only style writing: Do what degree do these things just sort of happen one day? To what degree do you have to plan for them? I don’t know how urgently I need to interrogate these questions. I’m not going to. I just hope that this doesn’t keep me stuck as the superficial narcissist, emotionally stunted Jenna. One source of comfort was that when Kayleen asked neurologists about if delaying big life decisions keeps one emotionally stunted, it turns out the opposite might be true.
KAYLEEN: There are neurological benefits of keeping your life open. If you keep doing things that are new, your brain keeps growing and changing. It helps you react better to uncertainty and keep pushing yourself. The less your brain is settled, the better it is for growth.
AVERY: I’m curious if 13 Going on 30 played into your research at all? What are your thoughts on that film?
KAYLEEN: I love that movie. She wants to be 30 and it’s seen as a good thing when she is. She’s having fun, right?
KAYLEEN: She enjoys her adulthood.
AVERY: Was there a precedent for that before 13 Going on 30? Seeing people excited and amped about being in their 30s.
KAYLEEN: I think we’re living it. The way we’re living through our 30s now is very new.
AVERY: How much of this shift was caused by the film and the generation of kids like me, who are excited about turning 30 and now we’re doing it? I don’t know.
KAYLEEN: What if it all was?
AVERY: Do you think there’s anything to that?
KAYLEEN: Yes, I do.
KAYLEEN: I don’t know.
AVERY: I know it’s not healthy to base one’s life on fiction, but this version of 30, flirty, and thriving was not really an archetype for me before this movie. My mom always said the 30s were her best decade, but that was the decade she married my dad and had me. So I think I have just been scratching my head about what “the best decade” is supposed to mean? Is it the first version of Jenna’s life? Or the entire second half of the film where Jenna regrets all the time she frittered away. Does it have to be some neat either/or choice? If this movie impacted me so much, I can’t imagine what it meant for the real-life actor who played young Jenna, Christa B. Allen; she is about to turn 30 herself. We catch up, and use this moment to assess.
AVERY: You know how some people, as they grow up, their faces sort of morph and change, and other people have the same face and sort of grow bigger? Christa B. Allen is definitely the latter. If you are a fan of 13 Going on 30, you could still recognize her in the street.
CHRISTA: I’m Christa. I am an actress of 20 years and I’m a content creator. I guess most people know me for playing young Jenna in 13 Going on 30. I played the 13-year-old version and now I’m a bit closer to 30.
AVERY: You’re 29, right?
CHRISTA: I am.
AVERY: I am too. It’s so weird. I started working the job I have now when I was 22 and I thought I was super young. How old were you when you started acting?
CHRISTA: I was around 8.
AVERY: I’m curious how you felt about your age in your work. I always felt like I had a chip on my shoulder, but also kind of proud that people always underestimate me and I always kind of prove them wrong. I feel so weird now, just being an adult, talking to you, another adult. We’re just like two adults. You know?
CHRISTA: I totally do. I totally hear you. My driving force for a long time was, when I was very young, it was people doubting me. You have a lot to prove. It really has happened in the past year or two where I no longer really feel like I have anything to prove.
AVERY: Christa’s IMDb page is pretty stacked. She played young Jennifer Garner again in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. She was on the ABC series Revenge. You can see her on various TV movies and series.
CHRISTA: I’ve worked consistently, but I now feel that I don’t want to leave it up to chance so much. I’m doing a lot more work with brands and building my own presence on social media.
AVERY: Christa B. Allen has almost 400,000 Instagram followers. You can see her lounging in a peach-colored slip in an avocado-colored kitchen with luminescent skin and vivacious houseplants. Promoting nail polish, and body wash, and stainless-steel mugs. She’s hustling all while she’s continuing to do remote auditioning. She is a working actor and she doesn’t hide her grind.
CHRISTA: I don’t come from a rich family. I don’t come from a business family. My family are blue-collar workers and I have a lot of respect for what they do and they have a lot of dignity. In the world that I’m playing in, you are essentially a small business and you have to know how to run your small business. No one taught me that. I’ve had to go on that journey on my own. Through what I share on social media I think I can empower others to do the same in some way.
AVERY: As I approach 30, I know in my soul that I am happy and I like who I am and I kind of just don’t give a fuck anymore. Yet there are still these sort of external markers that I look for. Apparently sociologists in 1950 determined that there are five benchmarks of being an adult. They are completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, getting married, and having a child. I just find myself like looking around at my friends, looking at movies, celebrities, I’m like, “How old are they? How far am I?” I know that I shouldn’t care, truly in my soul I don’t care. I still care a little bit. How do you feel like you measure up right now?
CHRISTA: May I ask which of those benchmarks you’ve completed?
AVERY: I left school. I left home. I am financially independent. I am weirded out that I am like nowhere close to being married. I was in a long-term relationship in my mid-20s and I was like, “I’m just spending my whole 20s in this relationship. I got to live a little bit while I’m still young.” We broke up when I was 28 and then as soon as I turned 29, I was like, “Time is running out!!” It just went so quickly from being “I’m still young” to “Time’s running out.” I don’t believe that in my soul, but the mythology is so strong. Where do you measure up in your mind?
CHRISTA: I never went to college, well, I went to community college, but never got a degree. I dropped out of high school when I was 15 or tested out of high school when I was 15. Went straight to college. Did that for a while and then just focused on work from there on out. I am financially independent. I have lived on my own since I was 18. I’m single and childless. So, you know, there are only a couple of ways that I don’t measure up, but I don’t feel in any hurry to meet those benchmarks. I’m always really inspired by those people who kind of start their career in their 40s. Or didn’t make their first major move or start their first major company or write their first book or whatever until their 40s. The harder part is sitting in silence for a while and figuring out what that is. I honestly think that’s the hardest thing for most people and it’s the hardest thing for me. Once you see what it is that you want, it’s about breaking it down into tiny steps to get there. Having your eye on the prize, that’s the harder part.
AVERY: I don’t know what the prize is. I really don’t. All my life, I just wanted to make a living working in radio and now I do. Just like Christa wanted to be an actress and she is. But of course you’re never, ever, ever just going to be able to hit cruise control on existence. Even if you’re lucky enough to hit a goal or cross something off the big 1950s life checklist.
CATHY: I think that when you’re young, like 13 and looking at your future, you just have this idea that it will be, you’ll be magically together at the age of 30 and you’ll have this fabulous life.
AVERY: Writers Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith again.
CATHY: Then when you’re approaching 30, like we were when we were writing it, and it’s not magical. You’re still working it out. You’re always looking for a magical future where it’s all going to be together no matter what age you are.
JAZ: Did you guys have images of yourself when you were 13? What you imagined yourself to be at 30? Like an idea or image of what you would be doing?
AVERY: I’m telling you, so much of it came from this movie. Just like the scene of her walking around the city in a flirty little sundress. That, that’s what 30-year-olds do. I don’t know. What was your vision?
JAZ: I had a very specific one, and it was drinking a martini and sitting at an airport, fashionable bar with a long ponytail. I was there by myself just waiting for a man to come up to me and sweep me off my feet. I didn’t need him because I was going on a plane.
PARKER: What about you, Allison?
ALLISON: Mine is more basic. I’m going to have four kids, two of them twins. I’m going to have some horses, and I’m going to be married.
PARKER: I thought if I could go to midnight movies in New York, when I was a teenager, like when I was like 13. That seemed like the dream. I think I just seemed really fancy to me. That was my dream.
JAZ: Well, we’re not too far away except for you, Allison. Everybody else isn’t too far away.
ALLISON: I’ll put mine off to 40. I’ll put off my horse aspirations to 40.
PARKER: Funny thing is, we’ve got time. We’ve got so much time. I feel like we’re just like forcing this clock.
AVERY: I don’t expect everything to magically change with a flip of a digit, nor do I really think I’m running out of time. It’s just that when I close my eyes and think about it, my biggest dreams right now truly are to go out dancing and dress up and make out with someone. This is definitely a year under lockdown getting to me, but I pretty much just want to be flirting and thriving. I just can’t seem to let go of the idea that one day, later, I will get hit on the head with the adult stick.
AVERY: If you could rewrite anything about the movie now, what would you change?
JOSH: I think that the movie really has a very clear message about trying to make the right choices going in and you won’t have to go through what Jenna Rink went through in order to find Matt and find the right way to go about your life. In retrospect, being a little older, I kind of feel like everyone’s going to make those mistakes. Maybe because I’m older? Maybe making those mistakes are okay?
AVERY: So you think if Jenna couldn’t go back in time and correct her behavior, she’d just move on and find someone great on Bumble and have a good life.
CATHY: Find someone like Matt, maybe not Matt. Some of his qualities!
JOSH: I think we used to joke, “They end up together, but they break up during college, they date other people.” We don’t need to get into that. We don’t need to tell the audience that. That’s our vision of it.
AVERY: So what’s the lesson in the movie?
JOSH: Ah … the lesson.
CATHY: I think the lesson in the movie is appreciate your weird friends who will always be good to you.
AVERY: Hey, listen. I’m not sure what lesson I got from the movie but I will take this one.
ALLISON: For my 30th birthday party, I made Thai curry for a bunch of people and it was 30, flirty, and Thai curry.
PARKER: Oh God.
ALLISON: Even though I’m 30, I still have this idea of what 30 is. I’m
not that, but I feel fine about it. I feel good about it
JAZ: I feel great about being in my 30s, too.
PARKER: I’m all right about it.
JAZ: Here, here! Welcome to the club, Avery!
AVERY: Thank you.
PARKER: Is that better?
AVERY: Thanks, guys. This was perfect.