Looking at 13: The Musical as someone with no knowledge of the stage production, it’s immediately obvious why it could have worked live. There is a certain joy for an adult audience in seeing children do things that are usually meant for adults. A light, comparable example of this principle is Alan Parker’s 1976 film Bugsy Malone, a musical about Prohibition-era bootleggers, performed entirely by children. Where it succeeds by draping its young stars in gangster film trappings, this has an almost entirely teenage cast doing the high-energy numbers of a Broadway show that are more fun to watch live in the room than through a screen. This quick adaptation seems more intent on recreating that energy than finding the best form for the story to take within its new medium, making it very hard to care about anything other than the young talent on display.
IN 13: The musical neat, clean premise, protagonist Evan Goldman (Eli Golden) faces a disappointing reality. Thanks to his parents’ divorce, the NYC native moves with his mother to her small hometown of Walkerton, Indiana, where he will now be forced to hold his bar mitzvah. Determined to make it the best grown-up party ever, he must find a way to make new friends fast enough to invite them all, which may prove to be a challenge. After all, he and his mother moving in with his grandmother triple Walkerton’s Jewish population. But when any aspect of a culture-clash narrative is quickly abandoned, Evans’ struggles prove those of a much more standard teen movie. His first friend in town, Patrice (Gabriella Uhl), turns out to be the school outcast, and he immediately ditches her to join popular kids Brett (JD McCrary), Kendra (Lindsey Blackwell) and de facto antagonist Lucy ( Frankie) McNellis). This, as viewers might expect, makes things worse before they get better.
13 is one of those movie musicals that is eager to sprint from song to song, and in this particular case, anyone not already inclined to Broadway energy will find it difficult to sit through. The music itself is very poppy, and the tracks tend to chase a certain visual dynamism – both through camera movement and group choreography – that becomes tiresome when deployed so consistently in quick succession. There’s fun to be had when the film taps into the awkwardness of its titular age, as in the opening “Thirteen/Becoming a Man” or “Bad News,” sung by Brett’s jilted friends after he starts dating, but that mileage is limited when it is the only source of engagement. This movie really needed to spend more time on its characters and their relationships, both of which seem designed to service the plot rather than fleshing out full-fledged people worthy of emotional investment.
thematic, 13: The Musical is perhaps more frustrating as there was obviously a lot more potential in the setup than this adaptation took advantage of. Evans’ Jewishness, something that was originally placed at the heart of the story, is essentially rendered a non-factor in the film’s central conflict. The challenge of having his Bar Mitzvah in this particular city—where he learns he’ll have to hold it in a church instead of a temple—should be his status as a cultural outsider, which could mean struggling with ignorance, stereotypes or even the prejudice of his peers. In a situation where he feels he has to sell his classmates on the concept of a bar mitzvah, Evan could embark on his own journey to understand its meaning beyond his desire to throw the world’s biggest party. A conclusion in the opposite direction, if perhaps an unlikely path for this light-hearted musical to take, would have been just as interesting as a character arc.
Instead, after a few approaches to these problems, his challenge turns out to be that he is new. 13: The musical strikingly diverse casting certainly has its virtues, but it also (perhaps inadvertently) frames Evans’ new school as a place of tolerance, where being “other” is essentially a non-issue. This could also have been made interesting – maybe Evan is the one with the misconceptions about small town life – but it only neutralizes the importance of the cultural overlay. Instead of being confronted with people who are different from him in ways he’s never experienced, his classmates are just people who don’t know him yet, and the film leaves little doubt that once they do, they will they liked it. they see. With no substance to chew on, all a (committed) viewer can do is buckle down for the 90-minute runtime and wait to hear a tune they like – and hope that when it’s over, they , emerges without earworms.
13: The Musical can be streamed on Netflix on Friday, August 12. The film is 91 minutes long and is rated PG for some thematic elements and crude humor.