I should have seen the writing on the wall with Netflix’s new musical, the aptly titled 13: The Musical. For one thing, the review embargo is the actual release date and time it drops; while not an infallible measure of quality, this is often a sign that films are not up to par. Secondly, the original Broadway cast (obviously far too old to be involved in the new iteration, as it debuted in 2008) set an impossibly high standard for the production that is simply impossible to live up to. It counted Ariana Grande and Elizabeth Gillies among the leads! 13: The Musical ends up feeling like a Disney Channel Original Movie reject, without rhyme or reason to matter for anyone over the age of twelve.
Evan Goldman (Eli Golden) is an ambitious 12-year-old who wants only one thing—to have an epic bar mitzvah for his thirteen birthday! Unfortunately, his mom (Debra Messing, Will & Grace, Smash) and dad (Peter Hermann, Younger, United 93) have just gotten divorced. Relocating from the heart of New York City to Walkerton, Indiana, to live with his mom, Evan cannot possibly have the killer party of his dreams in the middle of nowhere! Evan’s bar mitzvah was set to be the biggest party of the year, with the whole class in attendance. Evan’s rabbi (Josh Peck, Drake & Josh, The Wackness) tries to smooth over Evan’s transition, but starting at a new school doesn’t seem like a good way to ring in one’s thirteen year—especially when none of the other kids appear understanding of Jewish people. Rhea Perlman (Matilda, Marvelous and the Black Hole) makes a small appearance as Evan’s loving grandmother.
One of the children jokes that a bar mitzvah is “when they make you walk backwards, and everyone gets circumcised,” which is clearly not anything close to accurate. Evan gets a window into the new school through social outsider Patrice (Gabriella Uhl) and her close friend, Archie (Jonathan Lengel), neither of whom are all that popular. Evan tries to blend both worlds—that of the cool kids and the social rejects—to mixed results. Only one thing is on his mind: still find a way to throw the most epic bar mitzvah, despite now living in a mediocre town whose best hotel is the Best Western.
13: The Musical has a couple songs that forcefully earworm their way into one’s psyche, but for the most part, they are a collection of mostly forgettable pop ballads. Tunes about the town being the lamest place in the world, the joys of turning thirteen, unrequited love, and a cheerleader-only bop about taking advantage of every “Opportunity” do very little to sell this film as anything other than kiddie fare. Musical numbers are bright and well-choreographed, but I struggled to care about the coming-of-age struggles of relationships and throwing extravagant parties. At the end of the day, the movie has a sweet message for families, and will likely be loved by many younger viewers. Just be warned that “day turns to day turns to day turns to day turns to day” is in fact a lyric in one of 13’s final musical numbers.
13: The Musical plans an epic party when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, August 12th.