In so many ways, 13: The Musical is the Jewish representation we need right now. There have been so many misses with Jewish representation, even recently, that I confess to entering this movie with more than a little trepidation. However, this movie manages to be a charming character study of a boy coming of age, with all of the mess and joy that this entails. Throw in some excellent music and choreographed dance sequences, and we have a winner of a movie.
From the beginning, I freely admit to never having been a massive musical fan. I could never quite capture the fervor required to be considered a musical theatre fan. I am even more skeptical when it comes to movie adaptations of stage musicals (*cough* Les Mis *cough). There was a lot going against this movie before I saw it, having never seen the original musical on stage. I’m relieved to say that 13: The Musical took all of my expectations and threw them all out the window.
Let’s start with the star of the show, Eli Golden. There is a hardly a more perfect choice to portray this earnest version of the beginning of Jewish adulthood. It’s a hefty responsibility to take on. And yet, Golden portrays Evan as a lovable, imperfect boy getting ready to shoulder adult responsibility. He’s paired so perfectly with Patrice (Gabriella Uhl), activist extraordinaire who is really who I wish I was in high school. Combining cringe with a clear desire to repair the world, this character represents the best of the teenage years.
In terms of the Jewish representation, this movie takes such beautiful care to ensure authenticity. For starters, Josh Peck’s Rabbi Shapiro is the cringiest, most delightful, young rabbi that’s been on-screen in a minute. Rabbis are too often the brunt of jokes that lead to incredibly anti-Semitic stereotypes. It’s a relief to see a rabbi portrayed as fully human, and acting as a guide to the next generation of the Jewish people.
The storyline with the parents was an endearing and heartbreaking one. Jessica (Debra Messing) and Joel (Peter Hermann) clearly love their son immensely. That point is never in question. Theirs is a heartwarming journey to put their son first above all else even if their marriage couldn’t be salvaged. It’s inspiring, frankly, to see two parents who are so clearly on the same team when it comes to their son. That phone call in particular, where Joel does some major teshuvah.
Following this group of teenagers as they’re on the cusp of growing up could have been purely uncomfortable. Instead, 13: The Musical manages to combine the levity that comes with being this age, while acknowledging the massive storm of responsibility that is coming. As Evan teaches us in his drash, we all need a little more help and a little more time. It’s a reminder to the adults watching that the next generation requires love and support, not derision and dismissiveness.
13: The Musical as a whole is such a charming experience from beginning to end. The Jewishness alone makes it so delightful and comforting. This is also an honest snapshot of the teenage years, at their best and worst. While the characters may make glaring mistakes and unjustifiable decisions, we know that they’re still learning. It’s a message that we should all be reminded of from time to time.
13: The Musical is available to stream on Netflix.