J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Jewtopia: the Off-Broadway Hit with Names You’ll Know

It was an Off-Broadway hit that inspired a world tour and a coffee table book.  As a bonus, it also had a real story, not just dudes in blue make-up, banging on trash cans, making it a natural candidate for a film treatment.  Director Bryan Fogel and his original co-writer Sam Wolfson have duly adapted the big screen version of Jewtopia (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Christian O’Connell makes Miracle Whip look earthy.  His happiest times were spent dating college girlfriend Rebecca Ogin, because he enjoyed the way she took charge of their relationship.  He never really recovered after she dumped him at graduation over the whole non-Jewish thing.  Years later, the clueless O’Connell crashes a Jewish singles mixer and somehow scores the phone number of Alison Marks, a rabbi’s daughter. 

Not wanting to repeat past disappointments, O’Connell tries to reinvent himself as Avi Rosenberg, with the help of his childhood friend, Adam Lipschitz.  Meanwhile, Lipschitz is having panic attacks at the prospect of his impending marriage to Hannah, who is exactly the sort of woman O’Connell always desired, except maybe more so.

Get ready for a bushel of borscht-belt identity jokes.  You can probably guess at some of the complication that will arise as O’Connell/Rosenberg woos Marks, but Jewtopia features not one, but two sequences involving surgery in private places (so consider yourself warned).  Indeed, there is no shortage of gags to tut-tut over, but Fogel never really lights out into gleefully offensive Mel Brooks territory.  Still, Joel David Moore is effectively manic as Lipschitz, scoring most of the film’s laughs, while developing some appealing chemistry with Elaine Tan’s Sala Khan, an attractive and ever so unlikely alternative to his painfully caricatured fiancée.

Jennifer Love Hewitt is actually not bad as Marks and Ivan Sergei (probably most recognizable from John Woo’s Once a Thief) is reasonable presentable as O’Connell.  Even professionally sensitive viewers will chuckle at Jon Lovitz and Wendie Malick doing their shtick as Adam’s father and Alison’s mother, respectively.  Unfortunately, Rita Wilson and Jamie-Lynn Sigler never overcome their characters’ unsubtle clichés.

Much of Jewtopia’s humor might resonate to some extent with its target audience, but the WASP jokes, mostly involving guns and bigotry, fall rather flat.  Really, that’s best Fogel could do for gentiles?  Regardless, it is all harmless fluff that Moore, Lovitz, and Malik industriously milk for laughs as best they can.  Better left to die-hard fans of the stage production, Jewtopia opens this Friday (9/20) in New York at the Quad Cinema.

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