New Jersey Jewish News
What makes this seder different?
Its seder night at the Stuckmans prosperous suburban home and all are assembled: the daughter whos a sex surrogate; the other daughter by a former marriage who attends with her African-American lesbian lover (perhaps the most appealing character of the bunch); the eldest son, who dropped out of Stanford, went bust in a fly-by-night business scheme, and is now a fervent hasid, and his sexy cousin with whom sparks fly; the rebellious drug-abusing teenage son; the autistic youngest son; the two parents who havent slept together in years; the Holocaust-survivor grandfather who never unpacks his suitcase; and a hard-boiled Israeli laborer (replete with eye patch) who puts up a tent in the backyard for the occasion.
Welcome to When Do We Eat? just in time for the Passover season.
Jack Klugman, the veteran of beloved television roles in The Odd Couple and Quincy M.E., portrays the grandfather with a mixture of slapstick (he actually slaps), shtick, and shmaltz. Lesley Ann Warren plays his daughter-in-law, the beleaguered mother of this amusingly dysfunctional family. That Klugman, raspy voiced from his recent bout with oral cancer, is now an octogenarian is no surprise to this reviewer; but its something of a shock to learn that the radiantly youthful Ms. Warren will turn 60 in August.
Character actor Michael Lerner plays the other leading role as Klugmans son, Warrens husband, and the childrens father. That he deserted the traditional family trade as a hat maker to manufacture Christmas ornaments is a source of unending complaint from his father providing yet another note of farce. That he and his father survived the Holocaust together, while losing the other two siblings and their mother, is perhaps an unnecessary and strained plot element to layer on the Jewishness of what is already a Jewish story. Recall that we already have the baal teshuva hasid son and the irreverent Israeli sitting at the table of this one family, as if its a cross-section of Jewish life.
The hasidic sons object of lust, his cousin (once removed, he insists, arguing that whatever sin they commit together would not include incest) is portrayed by Israeli actress Mili Avital. Established in Israeli films in the early 1990s, she waited tables in the States for a while working on losing her accent, before beginning to succeed in American films a few years ago. Since her performance doesnt betray a hint of her mother tongue, one has to be impressed.
The others in the cast all perform ably in what is really an ensemble production. Almost all judging from such names as Max Greenfield, Ben Feldman, and Adam Lamberg are Jews.
This is the first film production of the husband and wife team of Salvador Alejandro Litvak and Nina Davidovich. Litvak was born in Chile and moved to New York at the age of five. His impressive academic background includes graduating from Harvard College, NYU Law School, and UCLAs film school. He claims the record for least billable hours by an associate at a major corporate law firm, but hes apparently found his metier as a filmmaker; Litvak is listed as director, writer, and producer of When Do We Eat? His wife, who has extensive experience in both the creative and corporate sides of the movie industry, is also billed as the writer of this, her first feature film script.
Their collaboration has produced some genuine laughs, with one gag continuing into the credits. Perhaps its Jewish for the comedy to be leavened (even on Passover) with some serious moments, but although they can be accused of attempting to resolve too many issues in an hour and a half, thats okay. This wont be the best comedy youve ever seen, nor even the best Jewish comedy, but it may be the best Passover comedy ever. Enjoy, and eat after, maybe.
When Do We Eat? opens April 7.
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