Director: Joshua Z. Weinstein
Runtime: 82 minutes
Language: Yiddish, English, Spanish
I love when I discover hidden treasures amidst the barrage of big-budget movies and higher profile indies all flying at me like a wall of tennis balls spat out from an insane ball-spitting machine, and Menashe, a film that made its debut in both Sundance and New Directors – New Films, is one of them. A big plus of the reason I liked Menashe was its location — the less glamorous section of Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, where a large Hasidic community resides in insular, closed off tradition. [Plus, it just makes an New York City-based movie more realistic than films that focus only on those who live in Manhattan and have White People Problems and while I don’t mind those films, I do like to see other communities represented.]
In this Brooklyn community, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) emerges as our lovable Sad Sack, the bear-sized gentle but awkward giant. A widower who resides in a small apartment by himself, he attempts to make ends meet as a grocery deliverer, and wishes to get his act together so he might be able to gain full custody of his son Rieven. Unfortunately, tradition demands he find a wife, and on top of that, every time he encounters his tight-ass brother-in-law who evidently is better off financially (and makes no bones of his dislike of Menashe), he ends up humiliated and disillusioned. However, fate would have it, Menashe in a somewhat borderline creepy way manages to lure Rieven to stay with him, and for a block of time Menashe the film turns into an exercise in things going wrong for both him and Rieven.
At a little more than 80 minutes Menashe finds that right tone between kitchen-sink dramedy and subtle documentary devoid of a voice-over and pulls together a sympathetic character out of a man who can’t seem to get ahead and despite sincere intentions, remains floating in uncertain territory. This is a thing that makes Menashe a fully fleshed out person; flawed, but hopeful and someone to root for. Director Joshua Weinstein clearly respects the Orthodox community enough to present them as positively as possible (usually Hollywood has botched it up in the past by showing them in a more unflattering light, or as caricatures). And i love the moment when Menashe has an exchange with two Latino coworkers who invite him to drink and therefore live a little. It’s a wonderful little scene that briefly brings together two vastly different cultures together in a singular moment. That to me made the movie and shed a wonderful light onto the poor schlemiel that is Menashe. This is what to me, true storytelling is about.
Menashe is playing at the Angelika and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas in NYC. Go see it.
Director: Gillian Robespierre
Duration: 97 minutes
If there ever was a successor to the type of cute and bubbly comedy that made Goldie Hawn at star it would have to be Jenny Slate. I’m sure there’s a slightly deeper actress just waiting for the right part and the right movie but so far, every one of her appearances since she broke out in Gillian Robespierre’s debut film Obvious Child have been variations of quirk and that’s fine with me. Landline is not meant to be a deep analysis of interconnected relationships and family dysfunction but a humorous glimpse at Manhattanitee Having Problems… with a 90s retro vibe. In it Slate plays Dana, a young professional who’s dating a wonderful and sensitive guy named Ben (Jay Duplass). She reconnects with former schoolmate Nate (Finn Wittrock) and is soon seeing him on the side. Dana’s younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn, a standout in her role) is also involved in a no-strings-attached relationship with Jed (Marquis Rodriguez). One night Ali discovers that their father Alan (John Turturro) is having an affair with an unknown woman to whom he writes some powerful, deep poems he saves on the family computer. Largely at the fringes of the story is mom, played by Edie Falco, who’s consumed by her career (and models her professional wardrobe on a certain Nasty Woman) and routinely puts Alan down without realizing it. Robespierre deftly keeps the situation from devolving into the predictable (even when we keep expecting it). Once that moment arrives, however, she seems to hold back a little as if afraid of making Landline a bit too messy. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable–much of it is genuinely funny and complicated at the same time–but it’s as if Robespierre and her actors played possum when they should have played out their confrontations.
PERSON TO PERSON
Director: Dustin Guy Defa
Runtime: 84 minutes
I really wanted to like this expanded version of Defa’s 2014 short which I saw at the MoMA’s New Directors/New Films because the original showed an uncomfortable encounter between a music guy (Bene Coopersmith) and a girl (Deragh Campbell). That scene is nowhere to be found in this expanded version. Instead, were treated to four vignettes varying from super-verbose (and in which Tavi Gevinsom stands out as an androgynous, neurotic teen who finds herself in an awkward situation) to outstandingly boring (the other three). The appearance of Coopersmith in a different storyline involving a rare jazz record shows that the man is not an actor and needed to be played by one. If anything can be said is that the movie does have a sort of cool late 70s vibe, but that alone doesn’t make an interesting feature length film.