Dropout UK @ Holy Rollers Press Screening, Soho
From Goodfella To Jewfella
"Sin is sweet in the beginning...but bitter in the end" reads a passage from the Talmud. Quite embarassingly the same biblical expression is used as a teasing statement at the end of the trailer for Holy Rollers - a directorial debut for Kevin Asch.
If the predictable-promotional-wordplay leaves little to be desired, the film title leaves much more to wonderment. I suspect if one took the title of this film to Church, and then to the Ghetto - the derivative would be two highly contrasting set of expectations. For non churchgoers and non ghetto residents however - 'Holy Rollers' comes off the tongue quite well, like a child friendly substitute for more exciting curse words. Whatever... a true Jewish tale cannot be missed, and upon discovering the script was produced by Antonia Macia - a recently converted mormon, I looked forward to a curious concotion of ideas.
Holy Rollers tells a factual story based around the ecstasy smuggling phenomenon of the late 90's. Although the gangster movie format has quite ironically arrested itself (and sentenced all films to inevitability) - real character, performance and style can build the raft in which to foray from the Scarfaces and Jackie Brown's of the past. In Jesse Eisenberg (Zombieland, The Social Network) who plays Sam Gold, a naive and frustrated Jew, these attributes are well stocked and utilised.
Sam has seen his new wife, as arranged by his parents and discovers she wants ten kids, and is just as unfazed about being poor as his own parents. The son of a fabric seller, he is on an exemplary path to becoming a Rabbi. However, when he mistakenly catches his Jewish neighbour Yosef (Justin Bartha) watching an x-rated movie on the Sabbath his face is stunned in typical 'Michael Cera' fashion.He pops in (the next day) for a chat and begins his inquisition into a life void of the only principles he knows.
Sam, with all naivety, emotional uncertainty and religious angst shares a great on screen chemistry with Yosef - a rolex wielding smack addict. Yosef describes his business as 'medicine' and soon has Sam collecting it in seedy warehouses in Amsterdam. Quite unlike other gangster flicks, where 'real life gangsters' look to for rules and regulations, Sam is simply told "relax, mind your business, act Jewish" when passing eagle eyed airport staff or bartering with illicit kingpins. He negotiates difficult scenes with humor - for instance calming down a disgruntled drug wholesaler (Q Tip) complementing the weight in fabric of his oufit.
Conceptually, it is interesting to look into the temptations of city life from the Hasidic community, where ideals are based on the cost of opportunity and rhythmic certainty. Whilst other beliefs and cultures may seem more passionate and outspoken, it is hard to match the conservatism and mystery of the Jewish community.
You are excited to see how much better a Hasid deals with the pressures of expectations demanded by popular culture, and a part of you wants him to stay true to his upbringing. But what is a drug smugling movie without the rags-to-riches scenes? Although not a rhetorical question, this movie provided no answer with standard scenes of the party life with little philosophical disposition.
Sam Gold's inevitable breakdowns with the people who provided him with humility and so-called wisdom is heartfelt, but not very insightful into the world of Hasidism. Though tremendous style and atmosphere was illustrated through payos, beshikas, and the locational grittyness of downtown Brooklyn, the director shunned great opportunities for meaningful drama for short and shrift comedy moments. An indepedent budget lowered the quality of production, but the Asch's yearning for sharpness was an oversight when more abstract shooting would have captivated an audience who are most likely to be of the curious kind.
Hitting UK cinemas on May 20 - this is a great representation of a true strory that was begging for a date with the big screen. However, if judged entirely for it's ability to stand apart from your run of the mill gangster movie, it deserves a date with a DVD.
Holy Rollers is released nationwide on Friday 13th May 2011.