Jewtopia the Movie: My Kvetch
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Right off the bat I feel the need for a disclosure: I’m not a movie reviewer. I took a film class in college, but that doesn’t count. I also love watching movies, but that doesn’t make me a credible reviewer.
I do have a lot of respect for professional film critics because it’s not an easy job. I recall being on jury duty in NYC about a dozen years ago and the film critic Jeffrey Lyons was in my group of potential jurors. It was right before the Oscars and we had a few hours to kill while we waited (before eventually being dismissed from a trial), so I had the opportunity to ask his opinion about some of the films up for Best Picture of the Year. I was amazed at how knowledgeable he was about each movie. Personally, I have a hard time remembering anything about a movie after I see it, let alone the names of the actors in the movie.
Now that I got that disclosure out of the way I feel much better. You see, after publishing <a href=”http://www.popjewish.com/2013/09/jewtopia-movie-seriously.html” target=”_blank”>a little blurb on my PopJewish.com blog about the Jewtopia movie</a> that opened this past weekend I was asked by the film’s public relations guy if I’d be interested in screening the movie and reviewing it. So I said sure. Which was a mistake. Because it was right before Yom Kippur and I was busy with a million things including writing sermons for said holiday and really didn’t have time to watch an hour-and-a-half movie. So after Yom Kippur was already a memory and the first couple days of Sukkot had passed I finally got around to screening it.
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<tr><td class=”tr-caption” style=”text-align: center;”>Jewtopia</td></tr>
<!–more–>I can probably sum up this movie in one Yiddish word: OY! It was horrible. I sort of feel bad saying that because I don’t think this movie will get a single positive review. It was that awful. While I enjoyed seeing Jewtopia off Broadway in NYC several years ago and found the non-stop Jewish satire to be pretty funny, the movie version was just… well… different. Despite a cast of well-known actors like Jamie Lynn Sigler, Jon Lovitz, Rita Wilson and Jennifer Love Hewitt, the movie is a broken record of Jewish stereotypes. It was insufferable.
A cross between the Naked Gun movies and the <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0317640/” target=”_blank”>Hebrew Hammer</a>, this is a raunchy (unnecessarily so) story about a <i>nebbish </i>Jewish guy (Joel David Moore) who doesn’t want to marry his Jewish fiance (Jamie Lynn Sigler) and a very non-Jewish guy (Ivan Sergei) who only wants to get married to a Jewish girl even if that means undergoing a circumcision surgery (it’s only a procedure when its done on a baby!). The two childhood friends have to help each other in their pursuits of “the Other”.
Somehow on a stage Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson managed to deliver this pseudo-offensive stereotype laden humor in a fun, feel-good sort of way. The movie version fails. And fails badly. The caricature of the rabbi would be funny enough without resorting to toilet humor. Jews are picky when it comes to ordering in restaurants — okay, we chuckled at that joke the first time around but by the dozenth it was more than enough. The bridge tournament, vaginal rejuvenation surgery and multiple hunting trips with the gentiles was just filler in a movie that had me looking at my watch more than once to see when the painful experience would end.
The bottom line is that Fogel and Wolfson should have counted their lucky stars that their Jewtopia stage version and book by the same name were so successful. And then they should have stopped right there. This was just a mess. Oy!</div>
Sometimes networking of the human variety occurs in a planned way and other times it is spontaneous. At a recent Jewish camp conference, I had the privilege of spontaneously networking with two really talented individuals. As the technology blogger for The Jewish Week’s website, I have the opportunity to collaborate with other Jewish Week writers, but it is always over the phone or via email. So, it was great to see Julie Wiener, The Jewish Week’s associate editor and columnist, in person at the conference. I hadn’t seen Julie in person since she was a staff writer for the Detroit Jewish News. Julie writes about Jewish education and intermarriage among a host of other topics. It was wonderful to discuss in person with Julie some of the interesting issues that she has covered in the paper recently.
|Comic book creator and cartoonist Jordan Gorfinkel|
|Julie Wiener, a writer and the associate editor of The Jewish Week|
A short while later I was speaking with Jordan Gorfinkel, whose comic strip “Everything’s Relative” is featured in the print edition of The Jewish Week. We were discussing The Jewish Week when Julie came over and I introduced them to each other. It’s funny how three people who all contribute to the same newspaper/website have never met in person. I guess that’s the nature of the world today. Julie and Jordan continued to talk after I left and what happened is a true example of networking in the best sense of the term. Here is Julie’s description of her collaboration with Jordan as she wrote about it in a Jewish Week article titled “Interfaith Families are Funny Too”:
I have a confession to make. For a long time, I’ve been unfairly dismissive of the “Everything’s Relative” comic strip that appears in this paper.
Too kitschy, too Borscht Belt, too Orthodox, I felt. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the majority of American Jews are not, in fact, Orthodox.)
Then this week I met Jordan Gorfinkel, the artist behind “Everything’s Relative,” for the first time and discovered he is not only a nice guy, but is quite eager to incorporate fresh content, fresh perspectives and more diversity into the strip. He just wants suggestions.
So, dear reader, I promised to brainstorm some ways to help make the strip feel more contemporary and inclusive. I have some thoughts — but, in the spirit of inclusivity and big tents, I officially welcome your suggestions as well, either in the comments, via e-mail to me (email@example.com) or directly to Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Here are some new characters I’d like to see:
-An intermarried couple raising their children as Jews.
-A non-white Jew.
-A gay or lesbian Jew.
-A Russian or Israeli Jew.
-A Jew by choice (or better yet, a character who is going through the process of converting).
Here are a few scenarios I’d like to see:
-The intermarried couple grapples with competing expectations, stereotypes and misunderstandings from family members of each faith, revolving around the wedding, lifecycle events, holidays etc.
-The intermarried couple (or the convert-in-process) take a Judaism 101 class together.
-A character visits Israel for the first time on Birthright.
-A character becoming more religious and a character becoming less religious.
-A Hebrew school teacher or principal dealing with the joys and frustrations of trying to engage kids and their parents.
-Family members arguing about Israel, particularly its policies vis a vis the Palestinians.
-Family members arguing about the presidential election and whether or not to support President Barack Obama.
Now, that is what I call great collaboration. And serious networking!