Movie Reviews

Clever Dough far from half-baked movie

by Harriet P. Gross

Last week, I finally saw Dough. I’d seen so much publicity about it, I wondered if it would ever get to Dallas. From what I’d read, I expected a lighthearted comedy; what I got was much different, but much much more. Was I disappointed? No! Surprised? Yes! I laughed some, but I thought a great deal, too, because this film touches on so many prominent issues in our country today.

First off: street kids, both white and black, making money by selling drugs for a tyrannical grower/distributor. Then, in no special order: Muslim non-trust and actual hostility toward Jews – and vice-versa. Everyone assuming that any and every black is from Africa. A poor mother working her tail off at two jobs just to keep herself and her son afloat in an apartment so decrepit that, somewhere during the movie, it really does float!

Yes, these are our very own U.S. issues, even though Dough is set in England. Yes, there are some things unfamiliar to us here, like “tea dances” (with all the men wearing kippot). But what happens when poverty is the prime motivator in a good-sized segment of society, when sons decline to take over the old family businesses, when widows overtly seek new husbands, when money-hungry businessmen go about their business-as-usual -- those things we see on screen here are things we already know very, very well.

These elements are played out by characters so true to life, it’s almost easy to forget this is fiction. An old frum baker with problems of both location and help in his business; a young boy who will do whatever he has to just to exist; a delightful little girl with a sour-faced father, both the baker’s flesh and blood. The genius of Dough is in the clever ways its creators have found to bring everything together. Who would have guessed before this that little bags of “pot” could work truly productive miracles? We all know they cause trouble, but here, there’s a real pot of gold at the end of the elusive rainbow.

Why is a man who must get up at 4 a.m., who always keeps his head covered and lays tfillen every day, forced into a couple of really bad situations? Why does a boy who prays daily to Allah do things on purpose that lead him deeper and deeper into other activities that have inevitably bad endings? Ah – that’s how the feel-good promise is kept. Film, after all, knows the way to take a story with lots of problems and untie all its knots so that the ends will wind up together in a very pretty bow.

Well, we know real life isn’t that way – at least not most of the time. But somehow, in Dough, all those bad situations and bad outcomes turn into an ending designed to send every viewer home happy. (Although I will confess that at one pivotal moment, I was looking at that man and that boy and thinking about Thelma and Louise…)

However, although everybody I talked to as we left the theater had enjoyed the movie, no-one was ha-ha laughing, so I guess I wasn’t the only one still wearing a thinking cap. But now, I can doff that imaginary hat in tribute to whomever first thought of this story line, and to those many folks behind the scenes, as well as the ones in front of the camera, who together turned it into a first-rate piece of entertainment, which I define as something that does more than simply amuse. There were parts in it that made me very uncomfortable, but those were the moments I realized my discomfort was because they are so very real.

So after all, I think the highest praise I can give Dough, with its inspired and fully-realized conjunction of clever fantasy and downright honesty, is to say that it’s a long way away from being half-baked!

Reprinted with permission from the June 2nd edition of the Texas Jewish Post

JEWTOPIA: 90 Minutes of Stereotypes with a Bissel Laughter

Do you remember the “Yada yada yada” episode on Seinfeld? One of the storylines involves Jerry and his dentist, who converted to Judaism. Jerry presumes the dentist only became Jewish in order to impart Jewish-themed jokes. Jewtopia takes this premise a step further. A very, very large step. Better bring your podiatrist along.

The concept of Jewtopia is simple; gentile boy (Ivan Sergei [with the most Christian name ever conceived in Hollywood - Christian O’Connell]) meets Jewish girl (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Christian would like the relationship to flourish and so he enlists the aid of his Jewish friend (Joel David Moore) on how to “act Jewish.” Cultures meet head-on, goofiness ensues and stereotypes abound.

Co-written by Bryan Fogel, Jewtopia is also the directorial debut of Fogel who co-wrote the screenplay, the stage play, and the best-selling book, Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People, with Sam Wolfson. The idea came from a scene the two writers performed at a one act festival in Los Angeles almost ten years ago. According to the press notes, their concept was quite simple; a “gentile wants to marry a Jewish girl so he’ll never have to make another decision.” They noted that the audience howled with laughter and knew they were on to something. Jewtopia, the stage play opened in 2003 and played over 1000 performances Off-Broadway.

The movie is brimming with clichés; some humorous, others just downright offensive. Perhaps the verbiage and slapstick work better on stage. The all-star cast includes Jon Lovitz, Wendie Malick, Tom Arnold, Nicolette Sheridan, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Peter Stormare and Rita Wilson. They strive to make you laugh but with decidelly mixed results. You might find it entertaining if you recognize yourself the next time you make substitutions off the menu at your favorite restaurant.

Jewtopia was only released in one local theatre, Grapevine Mills AMC 30. In keeping with the stereotypes presented in the film, perhaps the producers thought the Jews of North Texas would only make an appearance if it was located near a Last Call by Neiman’s? But it shouldn’t be a total loss; after shopping, you can always go for a nosh to Weinberger's Delicatessen on Main Street.

And if you’re wondering about the title of the production company, Le Petit Canyon (you were wondering, weren’t you?), stick around for the credits. It’s good for a giggle.

(Review by Susan Kandell Wilkofsky)