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Overall Rating
4.06

Awesome: 23.53%
Worth A Look70.59%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 5.88%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings


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When Do We Eat?
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by Jay Seaver

"Finally, a film that asks a question we have all pondered!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: During the Q&A after the film, director Salvador Litvak joked that "When Do We Eat?" was the most Jewish movie ever made. I don't know what makes something more or less Jewish, but I can't recall a comedy with such mainstream sensibilities that was this specifically Jewish. Happily, having an insane family is universal enough that we Gentiles can enjoy this movie even if we don't really know what, exactly, a seder IS.

Which is a good thing, because Litvak is no more interested in explaining it to us than the average Catholic filmmaker is in describing communion or confession to the laity. There is one character who could be used for that purpose, but not only do the other characters not spend much time explaining Jewish ritual to the outsider, she's assumed to know the relationships and some of the past history of the Stuckman family already. So it's not immediately obvious that Jennifer (Meredith Scott Lynn) is a half-sister to the other children at the table, or where exactly Vanessa (Mili Avital) fits on the family tree. There's no solemn moment to reveal that grandfather Artur (Jack Klugman) is a Holocaust survivor, since this is something everyone in the family would know and, to a certain extent, take for granted - we initially infer it because Ira Stuckman makes an offhand comment that he manufactures Christmas ornaments because the family that hid him gave him one as a gift.

The story involves the Stuckman family coming together for their Passover seder with the best of intentions. Ira (Michael Lerner) and Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren) have four children: The youngest, Lionel (Adam Lamberg) is autistic; Zeke (Ben Feldman) is skipping school to score ecstasy when we first see him; Nikki (Shiri Appleby) works as a "sexual surrogate"; and the oldest, Ethan (Max Greenfield), has become much more observant (Hasidic, even) since his tech company went under. Also in attendance are Vanessa, a cousin far enough removed that her trysts with Ethan are in "a grey area"; Jennifer and her girlfriend Grace (Cynda Williams); grandfather Artur; and Rafi (Mark Ivanir), the Israeli handyman who erected their tent, whom Peggy invited to stay for dinner and Ira thus suspects of being her lover. Everyone means well - they're doing it more by the book than usual to accommodate Ethan, whom Ira hopes to bring into the family business - until Ira's temper flares, and Zeke responds by dropping some E in his father's drink.

Balancing emotion and raunch is tricky work; for the most part Litvak and his wife/co-writer Nina Davidovich manage it. There are bits that many will find in poor taste - what's really funny about cousins sleeping with each other, other than the hypocrisy it exposes in Ethan? And while I, personally, find the idea that after sixty years in America, Artur still always has a packed suitcase with him in case he has to run or hide again sort of funny, it's the sort of thing that could have gone horribly wrong and winds up pretty close to "not funny at all" as is. Part of the point of the movie is that one can laugh at even the most awful things, and in fact must, because otherwise you're just angry and making everyone else around you miserable. The jokes work, but like a lot of R-rated comedy, they can rub someone the wrong way.

It's an ensemble piece, and the performances vary somewhat. Lerner bellows well, though he's perhaps given more opportunity to do so than is strictly necessary. He's at his best when playing his character between the extremes - not yelling, but also not obviously under the effect of the drug. Ms. Warren is nice enough, but doesn't really get much chance to be funny. The funniest is probably Mili Avital, who gets to say some of the most outrageous things with the most blasť look on her face (her character is a celebrity publicist, so, she says, she knows about drug overdoses). She's delightfully wicked as she flirts with and torments Ethan. Greenfield squirms well, and gives the kind of performance that occasionally makes one wonder how sincere his decision to turn to God in a time of adversity is. It's a good performance, especially since the superior attitude of the newly religious is only one component, when it could have been the whole thing.

The staging of the film is fairly nice, too. Costs add up on an indie, and even after the cast is taken into account (none are box-office draws on their own, but many are familiar faces), there's still budget left over to clear music rights, shoot in and around New York, and throw in some CGI effects for Ira's hallucinations. The result is a film that doesn't look like a play, even though it easily could have taken place entirely within the tent and some other nearby location. The jokes come quickly and work more often than not, and if the end's a little on the sappy side, well, that is the nature of the family-dinner genre.

I'm not sure how a wide audience will react to "When Do We Eat?"; the mix of family-dinner mush and frequently crude humor may be off-putting for some, while others may overlook it for its overt Jewishness (it wouldn't quite work as a Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner movie). That's something of a shame, because uneven as it is, it is funny and relatively big-hearted, which is what it's going for.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13792&reviewer=371
originally posted: 01/14/06 11:53:55
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User Comments

7/25/13 PAUL SHORTT CRASS, MEAN-SPIRITED STUPIDITY 1 stars
4/24/06 randy i laughed, i cried 5 stars
4/09/06 Howard A reminder of how "whacky" our own family seders are. 5 stars
4/02/06 Dee Won Laughed non-stop 5 stars
1/28/06 Kim Great film! Hilarious! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  07-Apr-2006 (R)
  DVD: 22-Aug-2006

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