Friday, August 12, 2022

13: The Musical: Movie Review

Singing and middle school drama.
It’s fair to say that Netflix is still looking for its answer to Disney’s High School Musical; something young, fun and that people will come back to for a sing-along time and time again. 13: The Musical is the middle school version with a whole cast full of kids who are really great singers. It does however fall short on the fun part and I don’t think people will be coming back for more very often.   2022

Directed by: Tamra Davis

Screenplay by: Robert Horn
Musical by Jason Robert Brown and Dan Elish

Starring: Eli Golden, Debra Messing

The cast includes a whole school full of kids, none of whom are currently a household name but a few could become a name, and then famous actors for the few adults. The lead is Eli Golden as Evan Goldman. He’s a Jewish kid living in New York City, 12 going on 13 and excited for his bar mitzvah, but his parents have put a damper on things. With his father (Peter Hermann) divorcing his mother (Debra Messing), and his mother moving him to Indiana. A town of 2200 people in Indiana with a church and no temple, and no friends. It’s easy to feel for him, his life is upended with nothing familiar.

Debra Messing is very miscast. She plays this very distraught and hopeless mother a lot more straight than you would expect from a comedian. The character would work better if it was comedic and she has the ability but for some misguided reason the comedy was relegated to only two performers: Josh Peck as his Rabbi and Hebrew teacher, and he makes corny Rabbi jokes but very fitting for his role; and Rhea Perlman has a few scenes as Evan’s grandmother. She shares a few nuggets of wisdom and a few one-liners.

The kids are all very good singers, especially the smaller supporting roles who are only there for singing. There’s a decent number of songs to keep the film very much on task as a musical; most of the earlier songs have catchier lyrics, but some songs seemed to be the product of “what haven’t we written a song about yet, let’s throw anything together” and there’s a whole musical number about the kids going to see a movie called The Bloodmaster, and any other song on the cutting room floor has to be better than that.

The plot is that Evan becomes friends with Patrice but she isn’t cool and popular so to get in with the popular kids instead, he tries playing matchmaker between two of the supporting characters. The romance storyline taking place for two supporting characters instead of the lead is an odd choice since there just isn’t the time to devote to them to build up their chemistry (a la High School Musical’s Troy and Gabriella), but Evan has enough on his plate with a neglected friend, divorcing parents and he still hasn’t learned his Hebrew for the bar mitzvah yet. Peter Hermann as the dad makes two appearances to help Evan with these struggles and he handles the emotion very effectively.

13: The Musical is a huge step up from Netflix’s last (only) musical Prom. Kids getting ready for a bar mitzvah makes a lot more sense than adults putting on a prom, but this isn’t the hit that Netflix is looking for. None of the songs are going to be chart toppers and the characters aren’t engaging enough to create demand for a potential 14: The Musical. And just because it bears repeating the kids can all carry a tune.