America, meet your new cinema sweetheart: Jennifer Garner. With her lush, broad radiant smile, delicately chiseled features, and extremely magnetic personality, Garner seems poised to (gently) snatch the crown of Screen Queen from the reigning Julia Roberts (sorry, J-Lo, but you never stood a chance).
Garner will almost certainly have her misses, just as Roberts had with Dying Young and the more recent Mona Lisa Smile — but for now, she’s It. And with luck, she’ll remain It for years to come.
She’s off to a helluva good start. Alias, the ABC television series on which Garner stars as a butt-kicking superspy, has attracted an insanely dedicated following. I count myself among the faithful and will, in fact, state right here and now that this spectacularly complex, profoundly ambitious series is the most entertaining action-drama ever to make it on to network television. Though it’s an ensemble show, Garner’s emotionally nuanced and deeply compelling portrayal of Sydney Bristow is its conduit to reality. Bristow is akin to a superperson, but Garner makes her completely believable, completely real. She sells the character with all her heart.
Just as she sells — again with all her heart — Jenna Rink, an awkward thirteen-year-old who finds herself magically transported into adulthood in 13 Going on 30, a coming-to-terms wish-fulfillment fantasy. That Garner’s light and lively performance in this air-muffin of a movie makes you forget all about her weekly stint as the uber-serious Bristow is a testament to the actress’s skills. We who watch Alias knew Garner was good. We just didn’t know how good.
The movie, on the other hand, is not so good. It’s clunkily directed by Gary Winick, who made the similarly clunky Tadpole and it adheres to its narrative formula with a slavish inflexibility. The military is more lax than this storyline. Not that the film needs to be unpredictable, but a little novelty would have been nice. It’s no understatement to say that Garner and her co-star, the winningly scruffy Mark Ruffalo, are reason enough to pay the price of admission (though you can save yourself a few bucks by going to a matinee).
The story kicks off in the ’80s, where Jenna is morose about her thirteenth birthday. “I want to be thirty, flirty and thriving,’ ” she curtly informs her mom (Kathy Baker), quoting the cover story of her favorite women’s style magazine, Poise.Â When a chance encounter with some magical sparkling dust grants Jenna her wish, she awakens as herself some seventeen years later. Oh, she’s thirty, she’s flirty, and she’s thriving. She’s also a cutthroat, scheming editor at Poise magazine, lives in a Fifth Avenue apartment and is dating a New York Ranger. At first Jenna is thrilled. But she quickly realizes the cost of her dream come true and — Freudian bong, please — extreme personal growth ensues.
Self-defined and empowered by her adolescent mindset, Jenna realizes that being popular and powerful doesn’t mean you have to be a back-biting harpy. Sometimes all it takes to win friends and influence people is a little tenderness, a few well-placed polka-dots, a raspberry-flavored Razzle, and a step-by-step knowledge of the Zombie dance from “Thriller. ”
The setup is a waxy blend of Peggy Sue Got Married and Big. But 13 Going on 30 ultimately lacks the core richness of either of those two life-affirming flicks. It’s too concerned with sprinting to the finale. It feels scattered and rushed. There’s no depth, no cinematic elegance.
It doesn’t matter. It’s Garner’s movie, her moment to shine. And the actress brings such a marvelous innocence to Jenna — eyes wide open, tongue Razzle-reddened, aura of a young girl’s unjaded joy for life — that her unencumbered buoyancy carries the movie long after the plot has stalled (which would be about fifteen minutes in). Garner vanishes — Meryl Streep-like — into the role. And it seems clear to me that both this and Alias are harbingers of things to come from a gifted young talent who so clearly deserves our full attention.
Growing up, my father would sometimes sit me down for a “Come to Jesus” talk when he noticed that I was beginning to head down a path that could really screw up my life. These talks were rare but deadly serious. I took them seriously because I knew my dad only called them when he was absolutely certain he was right that I was in danger.
Well, it’s time to have a non-sectarian but no less serious talk about your ability to retire with anything approaching dignity.
According to a new study, the vast majority of Americans are saving little or no money for their old age but, for some reason, believe they will be just fine in retirement.
People, this is insane. Nuts. Crazy. It frightens me that a majority of Americans are delusional on an issue that will someday have such control over their lives. It wouldn’t be so bad if these people had said, “I know that I’m not saving enough, but that’s O.K. because I’m going to live fast and die young.” I’d even be happy if they said, “I know I’m not saving enough but I’ll just work into my seventies and take a huge cut in my standard of living at retirement.”
They may not be the best plans I’ve ever heard, at least they acknowledge the reality that people aren’t saving enough.
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s annual Retirement (EBRI) Confidence Survey, almost a third of workers have not saved for retirement at all, about 40 percent are not saving currently and 45 percent have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments (excluding their home).
But many Americans are not worried. For instance, about half of workers who haven’t saved at all are at least somewhat confident they’ll have enough money to retire. Some of the reason for this optimism stems from the mistaken belief by many workers that their employer will take care of them in retirement. About half of the 1,000 workers surveyed expect they or their spouse will receive a traditional pension, despite the fact that very few workers are covered by these plans.
Basically, if you don’t work for the government, your company almost certainly doesn’t offer a traditional pension plan — and gay and lesbian couples certainly can’t be counting on spousal benefits from government or private sector pensions. What that means for most of us is that we’re on our own for retirement. Social Security will provide at most the equivalent of about $16,000 a year — and that’s assuming the government fixes the program’s crumbling finances.
Let’s say you’re earning $60,000 a year and would like to retire and maintain your standard of living. Usually, retirees find that they can cut some of their expenses after leaving work, such as commuting costs and clothing. That means they can live off of 70 percent to 80 percent of their pre-retirement income without lowering their standard of living.
As a result, you will need about $45,000 a year in retirement. Social security will provide about $15,000 a year, so that leaves you with a shortfall of about $30,000. So how much will you need to save to provide $30,000 a year for 20 or 30 years of retirement?
Most financial planners — including myself — believe that you can safely withdrawal five percent of your nest egg each year — any more and you could find yourself broke in your seventies. That means you’ll need about $600,000.
(For those younger workers out there, remember that the $600,000 figure is for someone retiring today. If you’re earning $60,000 but not expecting to retire for another 25 years, you can double that nest egg goal to about $1.2 million to keep up with inflation.)
In 2002, the average 401(k) account had about $40,000, according to EBRI. People in their fifties and sixties had average account balances between about $80,000 and $100,000. Not bad, but not $600,000 either.
Instead of being confident in their ability to retire, these people should be hitting the panic button — hard. Under our 5 percent withdrawal rate, if you have $100,000 saved, you’ll be able to pull out about $5,000 a year. Add that to your Social Security income, and you’ll be forced to live off of $20,000 a year.
Hello, cat food. Of course, there’s always an opening at Wal-Mart for entrance greeters.
To avoid this fate, financial planners offer people saving for retirement a simple rule that works pretty well: If you start saving in your twenties, you’ll need to put away about 10 percent of your income until your reach retirement at age 62. If you start in your thirties, you’ll need to save 20 percent. In you forties, you’ll need to save 30 percent. If you get started any later, you simply will not be able to make it.
And if you think this sounds harsh, just imagine trying to live on $20,000 a year.
Mark Helm is a personal finance writer and financial planner. He can be reached at HelmFinancial@aol.com.