Midway through 13: The Musical some 12 year olds sneak into an R rated movie. Their parents storm angrily into the theater to drag them away. This didn’t happen on stage but it fits the tone of the Netflix adaptation. Jason Robert Brown’s musical about misbehaving middle schoolers has been scrubbed clean of profanity, romance and prejudice. Bullies are now kind. Groping couples are now chaste. A kid with cerebral palsy had gone from savvy blackmailer to winsome extra. The result is a film that fades from memory as you watch.
The story still centers on Evan (played by the talented Eli Golden). No, not that Evan. He’s been relocated to Indiana after his parents’ divorce. He wants the cool kids to attend his bar mitzvah. To ensure this he’ll play matchmaker for a jock, a cheerleader and a scheming mean girl. The latter, played by Frankie McNellis, is a familiar trope. But she’s the only character allowed any fun in this bloodless film.
Half of Jason Robert Brown’s score has been cut. Most of lost songs went to Evan’s nerdy friends. He ditches them when the cool kids take him in. One is a heartsick ingenue (Gabriella Uhl) who pines for Evan like Sandy did for Danny. Without her ballads she reads as sullen and resentful. It’s an odd choice in a film that already underwrites its female characters.
Why are they defaulting to the standard jocks, mean girls and nerds of high school romcoms? U.S. middle schools provide a distinct experience. One that the filmmakers don’t understand. The stage show had no adults. The film adds roles for Debra Messing, Rhea Perlman and Josh Peck as Evan’s mother, grandmother and rabbi. They get lengthy conversations about the fallout from Messing’s divorce. She wants to resume her writing career. As I watched these scenes I wondered “who is this film for?” I guess it’s aimed at parents. The same ones who’d drag their kids out of an R rated film kicking and screaming. Actual 13 year olds will find something better to watch.
Odds and Ends
- Most missed cut: The gossip song: It Can’t Be True.
- Least missed cut: The gay panic moment at the cinema. Two boys got tricked into kissing. Then acted super grossed out.
- Best new material: Bloodmaster. It replaces the songs All Hail the Brain and Terminal Illness. Those were clever but perhaps too South Park for a family audience.
- Worst new material: Everything with Debra Messing. The new happy ending. It feels like it was written by the Hays Code censors.