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'Big' Going on 30: Is An Idealized Adulthood Really Wish Fulfillment For Kids?

By Allison Loring | Industry | April 1, 2014 |

By Allison Loring | Industry | April 1, 2014 |

What did you wish for when you were a kid? Most kids are usually focused on being accepted by their peer groups, being left alone by their parents, and, really, just having fun. A perfect apartment, amazing job, and gorgeous significant other probably did not rank to high on your list of priorities at 12 or 13.

But for Big’s Josh (Tom Hanks) and 13 Going On 30’s Jenna (Jennifer Garner) - their future adulthood is pretty amazing. Josh becomes a high-powered executive for a toy manufacturing company with a dream apartment in Manhattan and starts dating the beautiful and sophisticated Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). Jenna also grows up to be a high-powered executive (but for a fashion magazine) with a dream apartment in Manhattan and is apparently doing fairly well for herself in the dating department (as suggested by the naked man she finds herself waking up with).

Both Big and 13 Going on 30 were written by adults (Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg penning Big and Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa writing 13 Going On 30) under the conceit that jumping into unexpected adulthood while you are still a kid would be easier to accept if that adult life was pretty much perfect. And honestly, what 13-year-old girl wouldn’t love working for her favorite fashion magazine? And what 12-year-old boy wouldn’t love playing with toys all day?

But the reason Josh and Jenna want to grow up is not because they have a sudden urge to join the workforce, they simply want to be independent and be able to make decisions on their own without parental influence or restriction. Simply “being older” so they can live on their own is the idealized world Josh and Jenna magically wish themselves into, but they do not think about (or really care about) what jobs they have or where they live. That’s something adults worry about and strive towards in making films like Big and 13 Going On 30 more about wish fulfillment for adults that just happen to star kids at the beginning and end of the narratives.

As adults struggling with all the realities of being a grown up, the idea that you could know your life will be perfect when you were a kid seems like it would make you able to enjoy your childhood, but is that really true?

The worries and concerns of adulthood never really dawn on kids — when you are a kid you are worried about whether you are accepted by the “cool” group or fixated on getting your parents permission to do something fun with your friends. It is that pinhole perspective that causes you to believe your high school significant other is the love of your life. You do not have the perspective of time to know better, but that’s the point: kids do not know better.

Jenna and Josh both appreciate their awesome lives and all the cool things that come with it, but that is just icing on the cake to simply being on their own. Both Big and 13 Going On 30 place the characters in fantasy situations, but, really, Josh and Jenna simply wanted to be free from anyone trying to keep them from doing what they want. One of the more sobering moments in Big is when Josh is forced to flee his house and move into a run down motel in the city since he has no money, but realizes he could never explain his sudden 30-year-old appearance if he stayed at home. The fearful reality of actually being left alone, but in a tiny room with the scary sounds of sirens and street noise outside is the difference between being a kid who wants to be independent and being an adult who has to be independent.

The main focus of both Big and 13 Going On 30 is on the relationships Josh and Jenna have with their friends and their parents, but also with budding romantic partners. Josh’s experience and knowledge that in the future he could become involved with a woman like Susan is presented as one of the reasons he is able to go back to his 12-year-old self and take on the awkward years ahead of him. The pretty girl in school turned you down when you asked her to the dance? Who cares - you have a Susan in your future (and you get to be on top). Jenna is also shown that she should let her friendship with best friend Matt (Mark Ruffalo) develop into something more because she learns that Matt grows up to be Mark Ruffalo.

But beyond these romantic entanglements, there is a good message at the root of each film that you should be yourself and appreciate the moment you are currently living in. Both Josh and Jenna realize they don’t truly want to skip their childhoods, ultimately choosing (striving, really) to leave their idyllic adult lives behind.

In the end, Josh is probably happy knowing one day he will have a hot girlfriend and a potential gig playing with toys (since the idea of girls and toys are pretty paramount to a 12-year-old boy). Jenna is probably happy to have realized her nerdy best friend (and any potential feelings she might develop for him) can be freely explored because she knows he grows up to be good looking and successful (and having a good looking boyfriend others are jealous of is pretty much the definition of success to most 13-year-old girls).

These motivations and the lessons that kids most likely took away from the experience of being 30 are true to a kid’s perspective on the world. Kids are not weighed down by adult responsibilities, and being freed of their own insecurities by seeing their future potential is pretty great.

But when a kid’s concern is having fun and being around their friends, it makes sense that knowing the future works out well would keep them from getting overly concerned about what people say or think of them. Realistic? No. Fun wish fulfillment for adults? Definitely.

Now let’s go find a giant piano keyboard to dance on.

Allison Loring is a featured contributor to Pajiba.

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