13: The Musical is the newest Broadway musical adaptation and spotlights the Jewish coming-of-age ritual as it hits Netflix.
The timing of this film could not be better. 13: The Musical arrives on Netflix at days after Jews marked Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. It’s the culmination of a mourning period known as the Three Weeks–Rosh Chodesh Av marks an increase in mourning with no music. Had it launched during the Three Weeks or Nine Days, many religious Jews would have been forced to wait until after the holiday in order to watch the film. Thankfully, this is something we don’t have to worry about it. However, I did wait until after the holiday before watching the press screener.
Evan Goldman (Eli Golden) is 12 years old, going on 13. He’s training with the rabbi (Josh Peck) and looking forward to celebrating his Bar Mitzvah with his friends in New York. Unfortunately, his parents split up and his mom, Jessica (Debra Messing), decides to move back to her hometown in Walkerton, Indiana. Jessica’s mother, Ruth (Rhea Perlman), has the house set up for their arrival. She also introduces Evan to a girl in his grade, Patrice (Gabriella Uhl). It really is in the middle of nowhere. If you’re Jewish in Indiana, the place to be is in Indianapolis or even South Bend. Hell, even West Lafayette and, dare I mention it, Bloomington would be better choices. Instead, they end up smack dab in a Midwestern town with a small population and no other Jews.
Once we settle in, the film moves into the typical teenage drama. Evan ignores his father’s phone calls while he gets to know more people and plan the biggest party of his young life. The musical mostly focuses on his new classmates and their drama. Its’ not without blackmail. To put it simply, Lucy (Frankie McNellis) is very bad news. The fact that she’s crushing on best friend Kendra’s (Lindsey Blackwell) boyfriend, Brett (JD McCrary), tells me everything I need to know about her. She’s the type that will stab you in the back. All the while, Patrice feels hurt because Evan is suddenly hanging out with a different crowd.
“13,” sung by Evan, is the rousing musical number that captures our attention right off the bat. It’s rebellious but it tells us why we should care about Evan and his turning 13. Meanwhile, “The Lamest Place In The World” segues as our introduction to Patrice. “I’ve Been Waiting,” sung by Brett and Kendra, is the first original song in the musical and takes inspiration from newer pop music sounds such as BTS and One Direction. In listening to the original “Opportunity,” Frankie McNellis sings it differently than Elizabeth Gillies. “The Bloodmaster” is a new song for the film. “Bad, Bad News” remains a highlight as the song comes to the screen. “It Would Be Funny” is a duet between Evan and Jessica and one of the original songs.
I have some issues with the film. I understand that they live in a small city but was a community center not available or another event space? A Catholic church is one of the last places that a person should be celebrating their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. In fact, entering a church is actually forbidden by the Talmud (Avodah Zara 17a). A non-Jew knowing nothing about Judaism might come into the film and think that this is okay but it’s not.
My next note is not so much an issue but more of a question. I understand that a stage musical comes with capacity limitations. In adapting for film, screenwriter Robert Horn adds the adult characters to the cast. I wonder if he considered having them invite family members or their NYC friends to attend the Bar Mitzvah. It just seems so weird to not have any family attending the simcha. Outside of Joel, the only out-of-towner in attendance is the rabbi from New York. Surely, the Best Western wasn’t sold out!
I cannot even begin to imagine living as a Jewish person in a very small town. In most instances, there’s not a shul in these cities and so you have to travel a bit for the High Holidays. Usually, one goes to the closest largest town for these occasions and yes, this also includes celebrating one’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I know this because I’ve heard the stories from my father. His family settled in Western Kentucky after arriving from Europe in the early 1900s. In the late 1990s, my grandmother, great-aunt, and great-uncle were among the last Jews living in their small Kentucky town. Everyone else left the city. It’s how I grew up in Louisville, Ky., before relocating to Chicago. But alas, you’re here for my thoughts on the film, not my life story.
You might not be able to tell it from watching the film but it is very common for the parties to have a theme. I had an NBA theme while my brother had a MLB theme. The Star Wars special editions were only a few months old at this point and the planning started months before they were released in 1997. In hindsight, I probably would have gone with a Star Wars theme. My parents went with what was practical at the time but I digress…
From where I’m sitting, 13: The Musical is everything that Cha Cha Real Smooth isn’t. Mind you, there’s not much focus on the training that comes with the Bar Mitzvah. Evan gets a pep talk from the rabbi while he’s virtually learning but that’s about it until the simcha itself. Honestly, the training just wouldn’t make for an exciting film. I also say this from my own personal experience.
13: The Musical has all the makings of a classic movie musical for fans to enjoy for generations to come. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll get a physical media release some day?
DIRECTOR: Tamra Davis
SCREENWRITER: Robert Horn
CAST: Eli Golden, Gabriella Uhl, JD McCrary, Lindsey Blackwell, Frankie McNellis, Jonathan Lengel, Ramon Reed, Nolen Dubuc, Luke Islam, Shechinah Mpumlwana, Khiyla Aynne, Willow Moss, Kayleigh Cerezo, Liam Wignall, with Peter Hermann, Josh Peck, Rhea Perlman, and Debra Messing
Netflix launches 13: The Musical on August 12, 2022. Grade: 3.5/5
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