This film aims to capture that unique space between childhood and adulthood, and it features a cute and talented group of kids giving it their all, but it feels formulaic. Why did 13: The Musical need to be a musical? We're raising a generation of kids who all want to sing and dance, and that isn't bad, but not every story benefits from the inclusion. In this case, the musical numbers neither add nor detract from the storyline itself and feel instead like a knock-off concept. As a hint, middle school here looks a lot like high school (since when do middle schools have football teams and cheerleading squads?). In other words, the film might have been benefited from taking the musical numbers out and sticking with just the concept of "13."
The film is bookended by two songs about being that age, and on the day of his bar mitzvah, the main character's mom says he's a "man" now. This uncertainty about growing up was an interesting theme that might have been better developed through dialogue and action rather than song and dance. What's also original here is the set-up of a Jewish kid, about to celebrate his coming-of-age ceremony, who is uprooted and moved to small-town Middle America. His grandma (played by a wonderful Perlman) provides stability, while his mom (a subdued, almost uncomfortable Messing) regains her composure following a messy separation. His bar mitzvah will be the defining moment in his young life and the character's entire raison d' être is to put on a great party. This feels pretty accurate in terms of a young teen's priorities, and Golden offers a relaxed performance. His subtle hints of New York sarcasm are welcomed in this otherwise forgettable package.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.
Image courtesy of Netflix.