We don't do a lot of entertainment media criticism here at GetReligion. Our bread and butter is the world of journalism, generally that done by daily newspapers. But this article, titled "Why can't Hollywood get Jews right?," is worth the sojourn. That headline might strike you as a bit odd. Not to play into anti-Semitic stereotypes but, I mean, c'mon: If anyone gets Jews, it's Hollywood. Right?
Wrong, as Amy Klein explains in this article for Salon. And Klein knows a thing or two about Jews; she was the religion editor of The Jewish Journal when I arrived there in 2007.
Klein's real (kosher) beef is with the ridiculous depiction of ultra-Orthodox Jews -- those would be your Haredi Jews -- who often appear as caricatures of themselves. She begins with:
Why can't any movie get payes -- the long, curly sidelocks on Hasidic men -- right?
It's not like there aren't any Jews working in the film industry. Granted, they're probably Reform/Reconstructionist/atheist/High Holy Days or Buddhist Jews, but from "A Price Above Rubies" to "A Stranger Among Us," films that purportedly give a glimpse into the closed world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism come off as phony to those in the know.
From here, Klein turns her attention to a new film starring Jesse Eisenberg about the young Hasidic Jews who were lured into helping Israeli drug lords smuggle ecstasy into the United states. (Much more on that crazy story here.) Klein writes of "Holy Rollers":
The payes on actor Jesse Eisenberg are like costume pasties emanating awkwardly from his curly, too-long-for-a-Hasid hair. That didn't stop the stark, sentimental and somewhat contrived indie from being nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Of course it was! What do non-Jews know? Or to paraphrase the "Holy Rollers" bad boy Yosef, played by Justin Bartha: One goy! Forget about him. God does.
Perhaps my demand for authenticity is silly or naive. After all, this is an era of reality television (the ultimate oxymoron). But "Holy Rollers," filmed a block away from my father's house in Flatbush, Brooklyn, has the arrogance to say it's offering insight into a secret universe when it's overstuffed with mistakes like a hot pastrami from Katz's (non-kosher) deli.
The Gold family (can you get any more generic?) hectically toss around random Yiddish words -- bubbeleh (darling), gelt (money), and baruch (blessed is God) when they mean "kineh hore" (ward off the evil eye). Interestingly, Adam Goldberg's Jewsploitation satire, "The Hebrew Hammer," used the same words correctly, and it's part of what made the film a cult classic. It doesn't help "Holy Rollers" that many of the actors, like Eisenberg, speak English perfectly rather than using the mishmash of English and Yiddish that most yeshiva boys speak, having grown up in Yiddish-only homes so that their sentences come out mangled: "You vant I should make something for you for dinner to eat?" It's a cadence captured perfectly by Philip Roth in "Portnoy's Complaint."
Other inconsistencies in "Holy Rollers" appear to be many -- certainly enough to let me give the Los Angeles Times the day off.
My only regret with this article is that its focus on "Holy Rollers" limited its potential to discuss other movies that also have stumbled in their presentation of Jews. "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," which was awful, comes to mind. (Klein has been down that road before.) The article also didn't mention recent movies like "A Serious Man," which, despite my disappointment, painted a compelling portrait of the Coen brothers' Jewish youth, or "Inglourious Basterds," which lacked any sense of religion but, in my mind, served as a great catharsis for Jews who didn't have to live through the Holocaust but are pained by its reality.
To be sure, though, Klein is correct: Eisenberg's payes, as seen in the trailer, look absurd and "The Hebrew Hammer" belongs on every boychick's shelf.