Jokes aside, Hollywood has a real Jewish problem. That is, it doesn’t seem to get the Jews. It’s movies are often filled with stereotypes and poor reflections of Jewish practices and American Jewish life.
Amy Klein, an old colleague of mine, makes this case in a Salon article titled “Why can’t Hollywood get Jews right?”
Consider “Holy Rollers,” the new film about Brooklyn Hasidim serving as drug mules to transport Ecstasy from Europe to New York. 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.
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.