Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2022 4:38 pm 
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In an ambitious directorial debut, Genevieve Adams references her own experience of marriage into a Jewish family

Genevieve Adams has made a semi-autobiographical film about Agnes (writer-director Genevieve Adams), a young pregnant Catholic-raised, now atheist woman who, with her fiancee Levi (Thomas McDonell), enrolls in a Judaism class taught by progressive, feminist Rabbi Cohen (Hari Nef, "Assassination Nation") in order to convert to his faith and satisfy his family. Adams went through something like this experience herself, and evidently came through it happily. Her film is humorous, but never bitter, even if the humor doesn't always come off. Agnes' family is represented here through a grandfather who raised her, played by 92-year-old two-time Tony winner John Cullum. Adams had no trouble playing pregnant since she was.

Adams, who is relaxed, and McDonell, who is good humored, are fine in every scene where they're together enacting their sometimes conflictual relationship (celebrating Christmas as an ethnic holiday becomes a sticking point). Some of the times in the rest of this movie are less successful. The setting is Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Manhattan and not for the first time I thought of the great HBO series "High Maintenance," whose scenes and locations are similar, and wished for some of that wit, specificity, and lightness of touch.

Agnes teaches a class for little kids. Having them talk like sophisticated adults have worked if children had been found who could recite such lines convincingly and understandably. Scenes with Cullum as the grandfather and Broadway vet Chip Zien as Agnes' prospective father-in-law ought to have flowed more seamlessly and with a surer tone.

Obviously there are simply flaws in Genevieve Adams's writing, which is rife with non-sequitur and over-explanatory moments; and in her direction and the editing; which don't always find a smooth rhythm. This issue is notable in the Judaism class where neither the writing nor the delivery of Hari Nef as the rabbi feels quite right. Trimming would have helped the script.

But one supposes those who identify with this experience or are looking for a way to relate to it may find moments of satisfaction.

Simchas and Sorrows, 117 mins., debuted at Cinequest (San Jose/Redwood City) Apr. 7, 2022, and was screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (July 15-August 7, 2022). The film was shown Fri., Jul. 22, 2022, 5:30 pm at the Castro Theater.

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