Judge Gordon Sullivan now is doing carbon dating on ancient jokes.
The story of a gentile who wants to marry a Jewish girl…so he'll never have to make another decision.
If you grew up in a town in Florida that wasn't Miami and if you went to Catholic school, there's very little chance you'll have much knowledge of Jewish culture. At least I didn't. Sure, we learned a bit about Judaism (as a basis for Christianity), watched Fiddler on the Roof, and learned about the Holocaust, but so many of the stereotypes and assumptions about Jewish culture and family life simply weren't visible outside of the occasional Woody Allen film. Of course things changed for me, and I learned not only how much "popular" culture owes to Jewish sensibility (one of the first sitcoms on TV was 1949's The Goldbergs) but also some of the nuances of Jewish life. The problem with the film Jewtopia is that the "comedy" is so broad, the stereotypes so obvious, that even my high school self would have recognized them—and even he wouldn't have laughed.
Christian O'Connell (Ivan Sergei, The Opposite of Sex) thinks he's found the one, Alison (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Can't Hardly Wait). However, there are two problems. The first is that she's the daughter of a rabbi, and the second is that Christian told her his name is Avi Rosenberg. Luckily, Christian's best friend is Jewish, so he reaches out to Adam (Joel David Moore, Bones) to help him act more "Jewish." In return, Adam asks for help with his soon-to-be-wife, Hannah (Jamie-Lynn Sigler, The Sopranos). Hilarity ensues.
Jewtopia has a proud lineage as a long-running off-Broadway production with some repute that ran for over a thousand shows and spawned a coffee table book. To survive that long in New York City's theatrical world, there must have been something to the material to keep people coming back. Sadly, whatever it was didn't make the transition from stage to screen.
It's not that Jewtopia is terrible. The talent involved is significant, and occasionally a joke will land. In those moments, everything works. Sadly, though, they just highlight how disappointing the rest of the film is. I know there are stereotypes about Jewish grandmothers and interfaith dating, but there are only so many jokes to be wrung from these stereotypes. Add to that another set of boring conventions borrowed from the romantic comedy, and you're looking at a film that goes from obvious to predictable and back again.
The real tragedy is the wasted potential, though. Christian meets Alison because he goes to a mixer for Jewish singles, a mixer he goes to because he was traumatized in college when he was dumped by his Jewish girlfriend when he tried to propose. There's something deeply heartbreaking there, a real note of sadness about accepting other cultures and the expectations we have for ourselves, as well as familial pressure. To turn that interesting idea into a farcical look at a guy who lies about his Jewish heritage seems a betrayal of something profound.
Even if you don't share my pessimistic view of a wasted premise, Jewtopia has a solid cast that's wasted on the material. Ivan Sergei and Jennifer Love Hewitt have decent chemistry despite the material. Joel David Moore can play this kind of manic character in his sleep as well. Smaller appearances by Peter Stormare, Jon Lovitz, and Tom Arnold give the cast list an impressive ring, even if their talents aren't utilized fully.
Part of the reason Jewtopia feels underwhelming is Cinedigm's Blu-ray presentation. Though the original stage show was obviously a labor of love (its co-authors were also its first co-stars), Jewtopia (Blu-ray) feels haphazard. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is okay, but doesn't feel like anything special. Detail is good, and colors are generally well-saturated, but a few of the darker scenes look off, as though the contrast isn't right. As a result, the film lacks the "wow" factor usually associated with hi-def presentations. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track gets points for keeping the dialogue clean and clear from the front, but that's about all I can recommend, as directionality and surround use isn't that extensive.
Most troublingly, the disc's lone bonus feature is a trailer. For a film that's adapted from a popular play with such a solid cast, to not have even the tiniest EPK-style featurette is alarming. A commentary from either the original authors or the screenwriter wouldn't be unsurprising, but we get nada. Well, save for the standard def version of the film on DVD. Yippe.
Jewtopia is a film that relies too much on stereotypes and trite plot points to be really effective. Despite a solid pedigree and excellent cast, it never rises above fitfully funny. This so-so Blu-ray presentation is the final nail in the coffin.
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