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?”
The 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…