By Harriet P. Gross
In Dallas, 3 Stars Jewish Cinema has created the tradition of showing a Jewish-themed film on Christmas Eve. For 2014, the movie was “Jewtopia.” I’m both glad and sorry that I went to see it, because without seeing it, I would never have known how much I dislike it.
I found the film a pastiche of worn-out Jewish stereotypes, trying hard for humor but failing miserably in my mind and to my eyes. I think it was telling that at the film’s end nobody in the large audience applauded.
“Jewtopia” posits a friendship between two young schoolboys that begins with nose picking. The Jewish one is a skinny, glasses-wearing nerd. The Gentile one is chisel-faced and big, promising future muscularity. He becomes a plumber. The other becomes Embroidery Prince in the family business and is engaged to a doctor. These two spend much time in bed together as they plan their wedding, but that time is unfulfilling, to say the least: Bride-to-be is obsessed with having a baby and wants to get a head-start; groom-to-be isn’t even enthusiastic about the sex. We, the audience, are not surprised; we’ve already been treated to his bar mitzvah trauma when he divests himself of all clothing on the bimah and declares emphatically that he’s not ready to become a man. Obviously, even in this premarital beckoning, he’s still not ready.
The plot thickens (sickens?) as Gentile meets a nice girl who won’t go out with him because she’s Jewish. So he resurrects the old friendship in order to pass as a Jew, and the nerd teaches him bits of behavior and a few Yiddish words, all of which the plumber uses inappropriately while passing himself off as a surgeon. When this ruse doesn’t work, Gentile takes to stalking the Jewish girl’s mother and learns enough about her — and about bridge — to become accepted as what he is not. He wants this girl because, like her mother, she will make all of life’s decisions for him. I saw here a throwback to “Portnoy’s Complaint,” not the best-received (among Jews, at least) of prolific Philip Roth’s many books. Both book and film made me squirm rather than laugh.
As the film took all its ridiculously inevitable steps toward a foregone “everyone lives happily ever after” conclusion, I became increasingly glad that this screening was offered to a Jewish audience only; I would have been mortified had there been Christians among us. The wedding is trashed, of course; the nerd finally has a total breakdown and, in the process of getting ready to become a man, has a relationship with his Asian female therapist and later marries her; the original doctor/wannabe-mother marries a surgeon who specializes not in breast augmentation, but in beautifying a woman’s “nether region” (after she has that surgery herself, of course) and joins him in his practice. And the Embroidery King and Queen proudly welcome a plumber as their son-in-law.
If you think any of this is funny, see “Jewtopia.” I think you’ll decide otherwise. I also think that all who had anything to do with this film — writers, producers, actors, etc. — should be ashamed of themselves.
After the screening, many in the audience completed this “traditional” Christmas Eve for Jews by adjourning to a nearby Chinese buffet for supper. I could not face the idea, and the ordeal, of discussing what I’d just seen, so I went on home.
I got the feeling, as the film was introduced, that no one at 3 Stars had seen it in advance of this showing. Perhaps it was a mistake, but maybe not. We Jews should see all the many ways in which we are publicly portrayed, both flattering and not. So I thank our local Jewish cinema for giving us this opportunity. I’ve put my money where my mouth is by becoming a member, and look forward to seeing its next offering, whatever that may be.