The Thirteenth Year was directed by Duwayne Dunham and stars Chez Starbuck as Cody Griffin, a guy who begins an unexpected growth spurt when he turns 13. This movie is so smart because it heightens the facts of life — everyone goes through puberty, but Cody’s body is changing in superhuman ways. No, he’s not a hero or a villain. He’s a merman! Part boy, part fish.
I 100% remember watching this DCOM, which features Dave Coulier as Cody’s dad and Lisa Stahl as his anti-medical mom (she doesn’t want Cody to see a doctor) who makes a beet cake for his birthday. Cody’s folks are actually his adoptive parents, and neither of them are merpeople. His mermother is chased at the beginning of the film and must leave Cody behind. The boater (Big John) who’s after her later turns out to be the dad of Cody’s classmate Jess.
After the mermaid chase, the movie picks up 13 years later. Cody is a popular, successful kid. He’s on the swim team and has a budding romance with his friend Sam. Jess tries to help Cody discover his biological merperson past, but Cody doesn’t always speak up when Jess is being bullied by other popular kids. I wish bullying was addressed differently in some DCOMs and that victims of bullying wouldn’t be so resigned to it. There’s a point when Cody and his nemesis, Sean, are fighting, and Jess suggests that he’s the one who should be beat up.
Aside from that complaint, I do enjoy this movie because it provides an aquatic setting, a clever story, and a cute tween relationship between Sam and Cody. Just as you’d expect, Cody has a hard time growing into his mermanness, especially when he decides to risk it all for a swim meet. Jess’s dad, Big John, is the real threat, since he’s still obsessed with proving that mermaids are real. The ending of the movie begins with Big John taking Cody captive on his boat and then capturing Cody’s mother. Jess then sets her free and almost drowns, but Cody rescues him and is finally reunited with the mermother. She beckons him back to sea, and over perfectly dramatic scoring, Cody tells his adoptive mother, “I am your son, Mom. But I’m more than that. Look at me!” Adoptive mom and mermom start telepathically communicating, with the mermaid promising to send Cody back in time for school in the fall. Dave Coulier is equally reflective and supportive. Cody swims away, and over two decades later, I’m wondering why we don’t have a sequel to this movie.
We may or may not ever find out what became of Cody the merman, but we do get an actual theme song in the closing credits. Do yourself a favor and listen to Randy Crenshaw’s “My Thirteenth Year.” I am a proud owner of the very first DCOM soundtrack collection, “hEARS premEARS vol. 1.”