If you liked My Big Fat Greek Wedding, then you'll positively kvell over Suzie Gold, which offers further proof that the comedy of cultural cliché is largely interchangeable.
Set in London, although it could be Brooklyn or Shaker Heights, Suzie Gold is very much like its predecessor, only without foreskins. It's marginally about a wedding, although not the wedding of our eponymous Jewish heroine, an independent young woman who works for a TV newsmagazine with a bellicose editor who doesn't care about an earthquake in China that killed 8,000 people unless one of them is Prince Charles (who has an impolite middle name when the editor barks it).
Suzie's younger sister is the bride of the story. Her mother worries more about napkin rings than happily-ever-after. Her bling-bling teen brother thinks he's a mensch in the 'hood. Her aging nana, who's still spry enough to force soup on people, sees her dead husband, in black and white, sitting in his easy chair and uttering spurts of wisdom, such as, "When the penis stands, the brain goes." In Yiddish, it rhymes.
This is all pleasant enough, nicely played and rarely shrill, with occasional pearls (not diamonds) of wisdom, and never a heavy cross to bear. During dinner conversation, an aunt complains that her relatives didn't die in the camps for this generation to marry outside the religion. She leaves the table in tears, and Suzie's mother says to her interlocutor, "Are you happy now?" Later, there's a funeral, and a brief lecture on sitting shiva (covered mirrors, low stools and lots of food in Tupperware).
The story settles into a contemporary romance when Suzie -- played by the surprisingly charming and natural Summer Phoenix, the youngest of America's Phoenix acting clan -- meets a sweet fellow at work. But he's not Jewish -- he has a functional family -- so sooner or later, she'll have to tell her mother (thus the return of the story's "big fat" elements). Until she does, writer/director Richard Cantor (who writes for Da Ali G Show) ambles along with episodes of ersatz insanity, a touch of klezmer music, and the obligatory scene of synagogue prayer (it was good to hear a ram's horn blown after all these years).
Sholom Aleichem once said, "A kind word is no substitute for a piece of herring." I didn't know this until I saw Suzie Gold, which shares half a dozen little maxims on screen. This one is the most relevant because it embraces two stereotypic staples of Jewish (and all ethnic) comedy: People talk sharply to each other, and everyone eats. Suzie Gold tries to negotiate the space between this tradition and the new (her boyfriend goes down on her a lot). Seems to me they're just trading one set of clichés for another. Not -- as a famous Jewish comedian said -- that there's anything wrong with that.
The Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival
The 13th annual Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival opens its two-week run on Thu., March 16, with the Pittsburgh premiere of Live and Become, a fact-based drama about the aftereffects of an assumed identity adopted during a time of crisis. The festival also offers more than 20 films from Israel, Europe and North America representing Jewish experiences from the comic to the dramatic to the inspirational, as presented through a dozen narrative features, as well as several documentaries and a selection of short films.
Films will screen through Sun., April 2 at four area theaters including SouthSide Works, on the South Side (412-381-7335); the Galleria, in Mount Lebanon (1500 Washington Road, 412-531-5551); Cranberry 8 (Rte. 19, Cranberry, 724-772-3111); and the Carmike 15, in Greensburg (970 E. Pittsburgh St., 724-834-1190). Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. For tickets and more information, see www.pjiff.net or call 412-992-5203.
The first week's selections are as follows:
A CANTOR'S TALE. Jackie Mendelson proves to be a genial, engaging host as he literally walks us through the world of chazzanut, the art of cantorial singing. In Erik Greenberg Anjou's documentary, Mendelson, himself a cantor, returns to his old Brooklyn neighborhood, where in the 1950s cantors were idolized, and even spurred fierce rivalries among fans. Mendelson and others (including attorney Alan Dershowitz and comedian Jackie Mason) relate colorful anecdotes while emphasizing the power of the music as personally uplifting, as a community bond, and as a sacred treasure carried within Jews across generations of hardship and diaspora. It's not all nostalgia: Chazzanut is alive and re-adapting, as Anjou examines how some of today's cantors, including Mendelson, work to bring the ancient art to contemporary audiences. This is a recurring dilemma throughout the ages, as depicted in a marvelous piece of film footage circa 1930, in which a young hip cantor wows over the temple elders with his Jazz Age stylings. To be screened via video projection. 4 p.m. Sun., March 19. SouthSide Works (AH)
FROM PITTSBURGH TO POLAND. Three Holocaust survivors from Pittsburgh lead a group of local educators on a tour of death camps in Poland on a trip sponsored by the United Jewish Federation. The hour-long WQED special, written and directed by David Solomon, is commendable for recording the stories of survivors Sara Reichman, Herman Snyder and Maushe Taube. But the program is hobbled by overbearing narration and a highly repetitive structure (possibly intended to permit showing clips in classrooms). From Pittsburgh to Poland () also suffers a typical failing of such documentaries, offering "never again" homilies about man's inhumanity to man without ever linking the historical horrors to today's headlines. More provocative is "Sister Rose's Passion" (), Oren Jacoby's 40-minute short about Rose Thering, a Dominican nun whose ecclesiastical muckraking helped convince the Catholic Church to alter doctrine blaming "the Jews" for the death of Jesus. Those changes came four decades ago, but what's sobering is that Rose, a frail if feisty octogenarian, still must keep up the fight, as evidenced by the withering critique she and other scholars offer of anti-Semitism in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. To be followed by a discussion with the From Pittsburgh filmmakers and the film's subjects. Both films to be screened via video projection. 1 p.m. Sun., March 19. SouthSide Works (BO)
FATELESS. Lajos Koltai's drama, adapted from Imre Kertész's novel, details the horrors a Hungarian teen-ager encounters in a succession of Nazi concentration camps, and the struggles that await him even after his liberation and return to Budapest. In Hungarian, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 23. SouthSide Works
LIVE AND BECOME. A young Ethiopian boy is rescued from a refugee camp during the 1984 famine when his mother passes him off as an orphan and a Falasha Jew in Radu Mihaileanu's drama based in part on real events. He is adopted by a French Sephardic family in Tel Aviv, but his secret threatens to compromise his assimilation. In French, Hebrew and Amharic, with subtitles. Opening night at SouthSide Works, with dessert reception to follow, 7 p.m. Thu., March 16. $30. Also, 7 p.m. Mon., March 20 (Cranberry 8) and 7 p.m. Wed., March 22 (Carmike 15).
NO LONGER 17. This generous, gently funny melodrama is set in a debt-ridden kibbutz whose aging founders have been asked to make way for a new generation. Meanwhile, three of the children and grandchildren of that old guard return from the foreign countries they've fled to -- precipitating the disinterment of old secrets, including one extramarital affair that's long-running and another that's just long ago. Writer-director Yitzhak Yeshurun reprises several characters from his 1982 kibbutz drama, Noa at 17; principals include a rotund alter kocker and former firebrand named Shraga and his earthy widowed mistress, Bracha. The main messages are that time marches on and yes, we can forgive. But the ensemble is uniformly credible and engaging as Yeshurun skillfully guides us through one little slice of an Israel in transition. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Sun., March 19. SouthSide Works (BO)
ONLY HUMAN. A series of crises break out when Leni brings her new Palestinian boyfriend, Rafi, home to meet her Jewish family in this Spanish domestic farce directed by Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri. Rafi may be from the wrong side of the fence, but Leni's family presents its own challenges: Dad's gone missing, Leni's brother is intent on imposing Orthodox order, and her blind Zionist granddad is toting his rifle around. The humor works best in the small setting of the apartment, where something as simple as a child's toy is hilariously disruptive. The story lags somewhat in the middle when the family journeys out on a bizarre errand, but a quick pace helps keep the film on its toes through to its inevitable affirming conclusion. In Spanish, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Tue., March 21 (Galleria 6) and 7:30 p.m. Sat., March 25 (SouthSide Works) (AH)
UNTIL TOMORROW COMES. Three generations of women find their troubles entangled in this dramedy from David Deri. The middle-aged, widowed Lillian runs a wedding-dress business with her unhappily married daughter, but the real tension is generated by Lillian's mother, who is aggressively sliding into dementia. Naturalistic performances (including those by real-life mother and daughter Remond and Yael Abeksiss) anchor the story, even if the ending feels a trifle pat. To be preceded by Ilan Eshkoli's comic short film set in Jerusalem, "The Orthodox Way," in which a blind date is by turns confusing, dangerous and romantic. Both films in Hebrew, with subtitles. Both films to be screened via video projection. 9:30 p.m. Sat., March 18; and 7:30 p.m. Tue., March 28. SouthSide Works (AH)