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Film review: Women wanting in 'Suddenly 30'

By Felicity Cull - posted Thursday, 14 October 2004

Armed with a bag of Malteasers and a large popcorn, I sat through Suddenly 30 waiting for the moment when its description as a “feel good comedy” would ring true. Instead of a romantic comedy whimsy, Suddenly 30 is a film, which makes me feel strange about how our culture is dealing with “choices” for young women.

Am I living in a nostalgic paradise, or was being more - having it all - and taking advantage of every opportunity a positive path for women to take when I was growing up in the 1980s?

In this film, this sort of idealism and hope for the future is invalid. Can we have it all? No. Why? Because we want the wrong things: we are deluded. We must not push ourselves too far, for fear of losing our jobs, our future husbands and the possibility of domestic bliss, our morality or even our sanity.


Suddenly 30, with a strongly nostalgic 1980s aura, acts as cautionary tale for women who want it all, who push themselves too hard, who have their priorities wrong and are therefore eventually going to suffer. History is full of cautionary tales for young women. Tales that teach us appropriate behaviour and conduct, that teach us what should be treasured and what should be scorned. Most of these are not set in the recent past. In these films, the 1980s becomes the point where everything went wrong. In a nostalgic 80s, women wore power suits and wanted careers, having children became a choice not a destiny, women were free to pursue all their dreams. And this film is here to tell you, this is where the world started to fall apart. 

In Suddenly 30, a 13-year-old girl from the 1980s is transformed in a shower of glitter to a beautiful 30-year-old living in our present. Thirty year old Jenna is wealthy and pursuing a career as a magazine editor, sleeping with a muscly ice hockey player, and is generally a sophisticated woman about town. After her initial shock, 30-year-old Jenna becomes accustomed to her new life until she is horrified to learn that... she is not very nice. Not only has she become (gasp) a bitch, but also she is no longer best friends with the Talking Heads fan who used to live next door, Matt.

This reality is supposedly a problem. What is the point of living, after all, if not happily married to a boy from the hometown? The film acts as a warning to young girls - be careful what you wish for. Yes, you can have a career. But do you really want to be a career woman? They have balls of steel, and are, let’s face it, sluts. Don’t be fooled, you can’t have it all, girls. And if you can only have one thing, make sure you don’t pick the wrong path… you may never find your way out of the woods.

The film takes the audience back to the 1980s and lets us re-imagine our future. We travel in time with the character to a place where women apparently took the wrong path, and we have a chance to fix our mistake. Quick, lets back out now before our biological clocks stop ticking.

It is an excruciatingly obvious metaphor that the wishing dust that sends Jenna forward in time comes from the top of a dollhouse constructed by Matt, and that after he rejects her, she tearfully sits on the back steps of her parent’s house clutching the dollhouse. Too early Jenna rejects the - metaphoric - cardboard house he so painstakingly made for her, and from then on her life is changed for the worse. We can hear our fairy godmothers calling, “Don’t wish yourselves unhappiness girls, you may just walk away from the best thing that will ever happen to you - a man who will give you a house”. Never mind that Jenna’s apartment in the film - which she paid for herself - is actually much better than Matt’s. But that just may be the mercenary and delusional career woman speaking there.

Suddenly 30 is not without its charms. Then again, sweets like my Malteasers are not without their charms until you are under the dentist’s drill. The moral of Suddenly 30 is that women cannot have it all.


This theory may not be as shaky as most would like it to be; women may not be able to have it all, not with the lack of sympathy for a working mother in most Australian work places. But if women cannot have it all, does this mean that we should revert back to wanting nothing outside the role of wife and mother? Maybe women can only have one thing. But that one thing does not have to revolve around a nostalgic 1950s idea of blissful domesticity.

Films that promote a myriad of choices for young women are becoming few and far between. It is sad to see women’s lives reduced to an image of two paths, one leading to pseudo-happiness found in a successful career, one leading to the more fulfilling happiness of being a wife and mother. Diversity has been lost for women in these films. Suddenly 30 uses nostalgia as a warning to a future generation of young women of what can go wrong when a culture promotes women in a workplace. And its sweetness certainly reminds you of the next dentist appointment.

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About the Author

Felicity Cull is a PhD candidate at Murdoch University's School of Media, Culture and Communication, and a member of The Popular Culture Collective.

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