“When Do We Eat?”: The Review

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Everyone loves a seder. Or two, for those of us outside of Israel. Unless you don’t. I mean, the vibe of the seder itself, once you get into it, is a cool thing–people of different perspectives discussing the same story, with questions and answers supplied by the individuality that each brings to the literal table. Sometimes, you look around and wonder: “Who are these people? We’re all so different…how is it possible that we’re all related?” And then you look again, and feel the connection, and say: “Oh yeah…I remember now…”

But until you reach that point–seder nirvana, I like to call it–there’s more preparation than Wolfgang Puck puts in for the Oscars: house-cleaning, buying food that costs twice as much as it does during the year (in Israel, if you’re not sephardic, you also have to be sure that it isn’t kitniyot), preparing food, setting tables, grinding maror, making charoset, yada, yada, yada, matzah, matzah, matzah. And once you’re done, all you want to do is sleep. But you can’t! You’ve got to sit around the table with the aforementioned family members and make your way through the Haggadah, trying to have deep conversations, until someone gives voice to the question that is running through everyone’s minds: “WHEN DO WE EAT?”

wdwe-michael lernerThe agony of the family dynamic strained by difference, the intensity of the seder experience, and the ecstasy of, well, Ecstasy figure prominently in the new movie, When Do We Eat?, which bills itself as the first Passover comedy. If you’re a regular Jewlicious reader, you know that a) we wrote about the movie here before it was mentioned in most other places, and b) that I met co-writer Nina Davidovich (some of you may know her as commenter ‘Nina Beth’) when I was in Los Angeles and we schmoozed for several hours about the nature of Jewish projects in Hollywood.

But you may not know that I attended a screening of the film last week in New York City at a private screening room with the most comfortable movie seats I’ve ever experienced. (Yes, I’m fancy. It’s okay. You’re worthy.)

Here’s the short review, and an in-depth review appears after the jump (plus a scrolling bonus: a trivia quiz!):

In short, “When Do We Eat?” is an entertaining journey through someone else’s dysfunctional Jewish family, full of insider jokes for people who are willing to poke fun at themselves and at tradition. In addition to the standard family interaction comedy moments, the film covers real issues like the double standards that we set up within our own belief systems, the family tensions that result when one child becomes more religious than his parents and siblings, the psychology of the Holocaust survivors and the guilt of the next generation. [end of short review]
The story, summed up, is that the Stuckman family reunites for the seder, an event which brings together all the estranged elements: the ba’al teshuvah son, the self-absorbed celebrity publicist cousin, the work-obsessed father, the druggie son, the sex facilitator daughter, the autistic son…(yes, I said autistic son…don’t worry, trust me…). Uniting the family literally under one tent–in a stroke of genius that both logistically minimizes locations and evokes a mishkanic simplicity–sparks literally fly, in an effect I found resonant.

And now, to the performances…I knew Michael Lerner mostly from his Law & Order work, but he was really amazing as the pater familias who can’t see clearly until he’s been dosed with hallucinogens. Mili Avital (as the publicist) is simply luminous in this movie, perhaps because she’s finally given a role that she can sink her teeth into from the core of her Jewish self or perhaps because hair and wardrobe were incredibly kind…It almost makes you forgive that ridiculous movie she did with then-boyfriend David Schwimmer. (Almost.) Shiri Appleby will make you forget Roswell and Meredith Scott Lynn plays angry alienated lesbian well (a continuation of the role we remember her nailing in Legally Blonde). Lesley Ann Warren, who’s most often identified by members of my generation as versions of the ditsy floozy she’s played on Will & Grace (Will’s dad’s girlfriend) and Desperate Housewives (Teri Hatcher’s mom), blows that stereotype out of the water with her portrayal of a strong, assertive, yet terribly sad woman. Jack Klugman provides the traditional roots for the fragmented family, carrying his history and his baggage in an actual suitcase. Cynda Williams, the only non-Jewish woman in the central cast ensemble (and certainly the only one to ever have been married to Billy Bob Thornton), provides a great stable center to the family. And Mark Ivanir plays the scariest Israeli I’ve ever seen, like a deranged Vin Diesel sabra.
And it’s a battle of Jewish hotness between the younger son, Zeke (Ben Feldman), whose messy, hipster look will appeal to the David Krumholtz-smitten, and the older son, Ethan (Max Greenfield), the neo-Hasid you’ll wish weren’t so you could, well…use him for lots of extra-Talmudic activity. (The word Talmudic is tempting me to make an off-color joke. But I won’t. I’ll be strong, and resist…) And by the way I’m making a prediction: look for Greenfield to play the lead in FOX’s undoubtedly upcoming “King Without A Crown: The Unofficial Matisyahu Story.”

I know…why isn’t either of these guys my newest Single Semite of the Month? Because my insider information reveals that both are in relationships. (Any singles columnist could have predicted that one…say it with me…”all of the good ones are taken, married, or gay…”) But I also have it on good authority that I’m on a shortlist should either of them require an emergency girlfriend replacement. So I have that going for me, which is nice…

And here’s a trivia competition for y’all who need interactivity:

Before cowriting “When Do We Eat?”, Nina Davidovich made another significant mark on cinema…she:

a) Suggested that actor Cuba Gooding Jr. ask Tom Cruise to “show him the money” in “Jerry Maguire”

b) Sold the screenplay for Britney Spears’ film debut, “Crossroads”

c) Found Keiko, the “Free Willy” killer whale

d) Wrote the line “I wish I knew how to quit you”

“When Do We Eat?” opens in New York and Los Angeles on April 7. Check website for theaters…

For more posts by Esther, see EstherK.com, MyUrbanKvetch.com and JDatersAnonymous.com.

24 Comments

  1. VJ

    3/22/2006 at 3:44 am

    As I’ve previously mentioned, we’ve needed a Passover comedy for at least the last few thousand years. I liked the review Esther. I also like the idea of casting Michael Lerner and Lesley Ann Warren. Ms. Warren has always been an under rated actress, and has more chops than many of the lesser lights of the current generation who might take her place but never replace her. And really, I could have gone all day without thinking of Billy Bob Thornton.

    As for the quiz on Nina Davidovich, I’ve got it down to one of the first 3, # 2 I don’t think anyone sane would readily admit to, #3 I think is a ringer (he was never really lost actually), so I’ll reluctantly go for door #1. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  2. amechad

    3/22/2006 at 7:06 am

    I was invited to a screening too. But it was on Yom Kippur. Odd, huh? I’m still wondering what Jewish staff was there.

  3. Kathy Miselbach

    3/22/2006 at 9:29 am

    LOved the movie!!

  4. Ben-David

    3/22/2006 at 9:33 am

    Lesley Ann Warren is Jewish?
    Or did you mean the Jewishness of the characters?

  5. annabel lee

    3/22/2006 at 10:17 am

    I will definitely look for this, it sounds great.
    And thanks for the fabulous link… :)

  6. Jewish Mother

    3/22/2006 at 12:35 pm

    There is no question at all that Lesley Ann Warren is Jewish. She is definitely Jewish. She is a daughter of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

  7. shmuel

    3/22/2006 at 3:27 pm

    so is this gonna be like mainstream, or is it gonna be like Ushpizin, and only show in places with relatively big Jewish populations?

  8. taltman

    3/22/2006 at 3:35 pm

    *gasp!* Recovering from initial shock, thinking that it was starring some ‘other’ Michael Lerner *wheeze!*

  9. taltman

    3/22/2006 at 5:13 pm

    Esther wrote: “And Mark Ivanir plays the scariest Israeli I’ve ever seen, like a deranged Vin Diesel sabra.”

    Is this another Moshe Dayan caricature of the macho Israeli? Wasn’t there another one in “Hebrew Hammer”?

  10. jsirpicco

    3/23/2006 at 1:40 am

    Jsirpicco saw this movie! Yes, I’m back from the dead, and want to add two things…
    1) The movie is also touching, it almost brought me to tears as it careened toward the climax…

    2) There is one flaw: The holocaust was 60 plus years ago…so the ages of the father and mother and kids are a bit off, but that’s relatively minor…

    jsirp declares this: cool. worth seeing. So there!

  11. grandmuffti

    3/23/2006 at 3:44 am

    Jsirpicco is back? Morrissey is back? Goddamn, it’s like a whole reunion!

  12. Nina Beth

    3/23/2006 at 12:52 pm

    amechad,
    regarding the screening on yom kippur: that screening was to see how the movie played with non-Jews (it went over very well; people are always curious for a peek into someone else’s culture)

  13. Nina Beth

    3/23/2006 at 12:57 pm

    PS: “When Do We Eat?” opens theatrically on April 7 in NY, LA and South Florida.

  14. Kelsey

    3/26/2006 at 5:54 pm

    Loved the review you gave on this movie, but your performance review was lacking a certain actor, Adam Lamberg, who played autistic Lionel.

    What was your opinion on his performance?

  15. Sal

    3/27/2006 at 1:27 am

    Thanks for all the excitement about Eat! Little movies need big support. We’ve put all our heart and all our soul and all our resources into this film and we need the communities in NY, LA and South Florida to come out on the opening weekend of April 7 (not on Shabbes, of course – Friday matinee or Saturday night would be fine) so that the movie can reach the rest of the country!

  16. Sal

    3/27/2006 at 1:28 am

    Jsirpicco, thanks for the love! The characters’ ages correspond to my family – my mother was born in Hungary 1944. Her mother carried her through the Terezin concentration camp, one of the 100 children who survived. Her father was killed.

    Artur is 90. The murdered children were 9, 5 and 3. Ira was one – that’s a miracle akin to Moses’ birth, in the sense of the following midrash: Moses’ parents had divorced because Amram didn’t want to bear a son and have him drowned by Pharaoh’s decree, thus he would not cohabit with Yochevet.

    Their daughter, Miriam said, “Pharaoh murders the boys, but you kill the girls as well.” Amram then remarried Yochevet.

    The child brought about a transformation in the family that resulted in a miracle of hope, a new child. In this case, Moses, but for a husband and wife to have a child in Hungary in 1944 was also a miracle, one of not losing hope, from which my mother was born.

    Ira is 62, Jennifer is 33, Ethan is 26, Nikki is 24, Zeke is 17, Lionel is 13.

    We knew it would be unusual to address the Holocaust within a comedy, but the juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy is the most Yiddische of all customs.

    Just stand on the food line at a funeral. Some uncle will tell a knee-slapper, and the laughing widow will thank him.

  17. annabel lee

    4/6/2006 at 10:34 am

    Saw it last night and LOVED it. And Esther, you were quite right that “Zeke” appeals to the David-Krumholtz-smitten. Sal & Nina, I will tell everyone I know to go see this movie!

  18. sandy

    4/6/2006 at 7:57 pm

    please add me to your mailng list.

    thank you-

  19. Dave

    4/7/2006 at 9:52 pm

    Everybody please go see this movie so that it will get to other citys! Like mine!

    Please tell me it will be out on DVD too. That may be the only way I’ll ever get to see it

  20. P Bruegel

    4/11/2006 at 9:00 pm

    Saw the movie today. I was the only person in the theatre. What utter crap. Horrible characters, idiotic script and ridiculous story. Felt sorry for Klugman.

  21. steve westman

    4/15/2006 at 9:14 pm

    LOVED IT! Comedy,pathos, accuracy, wonderful shtick, GREAT soundtrack–as we say in “the business”– a hearty “yasher koach!”

  22. Pingback: Oy Bay! » Blog Archive » G’d in the Family

  23. Amy

    9/5/2006 at 3:10 pm

    Any idea if this is out in the UK yet? Id really like to see/buy it! :)

  24. esther

    9/5/2006 at 4:09 pm

    Hey Amy, I don’t know about the UK and format issues for DVDs, but it’s available on Amazon.com, if that helps…

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