Miriam Rinn
Miriam Rinn

CultureJew: A Little This and a Little That

Everyone has had at least one infuriating encounter with a health insurance company, an interaction that made you want to scream and threaten murder, so there is a potentially huge audience for the Mexican movie “A Monster with a Thousand Heads.” Director Rodrigo Pia’s involving thriller pits a loving and desperate wife against her sick husband’s insurance company when the “monster” refuses to approve a particular chemotherapy drug that she believes will save her husband’s life.

Sonya, played by Mexican stage and TV actress Jane Raluy, begins reasonably enough, trying to make an appointment to see her husband’s doctor, but when she gets the runaround at his office, she takes matters into her own hands and follows him to his home. His understanding wife lets her in and then things get a little crazy. The NRA may use this film as a fundraiser because as soon as Sonya pulls a pistol out of her handbag, everyone snaps to attention. Accompanied by her teenage son, she goes higher up the power chain in the insurance company, trying to get the signature she needs to approve the drug. Finally, she finds herself in a standoff she could never have imagined.

The director’s wife and collaborator Laura Santullo wrote the screenplay, which is based on her novel, and Pia keeps the tension high as well as bringing a lot of visual interest to his story. The 90-minute film touches on social and racial distinctions and Raluy is believable as the grimly determined Sonya. At least when it comes to healthcare, we have a lot more in common with Mexico than with our neighbor to the north.


The Lobster

It may be in English, but Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Lobster” feels much more alien. Described as an absurdist comedy, “The Lobster” ends up just being weird in a pointless way, at least to me. The all-star cast is nice to look at, but doesn’t bring much to the film, although Rachel Weisz manages to be sympathetic as well as lovely. It won the Jury Prize at Cannes and is a NY Times Critics Pick. Go figure.

Set in a society where people must be partnered, the film follows a hangdog David (Colin Farrell) as he goes to a huge resort hotel after he loses his wife. There he has 45 days to find someone or else he will be turned into the animal of his choice. (Ergo, the title.) David comes with his dog, who at one time was his brother. At the hotel, David hangs out with two other guys (Ben Whishaw and John C. Reilly) and tries to make a connection with a woman. For fun, everyone goes out into the woods and shoots “loners,” people who have escaped and totally rejected romance. If you get a hit, you win extra time to find your soulmate.

Eventually, when his days dwindle down to a precious few, David runs away and joins the loners, who are just as rigid and punitive as the rest of the society. It’s in the woods that he meets and falls in love with the woman played by Rachel Weisz. Their attraction is as dangerous as his singlehood was at the resort.

So what is being satirized here? Our delusions about finding the perfect match? (Couples in the movie have to share characteristics, such as being shy or left-handed.) The way people meet in the digital age? Or is this just smug, surrealistic nonsense designed to confound the viewer?

There are some really good British actors to enjoy: Aside from Weisz and Whishaw, Olivia Colman is terrific, just as she is in “The Night Manager,” the super spy show now on AMC, and as she was in “Broadchurch.”  The Brits seem to have an endless supply of these wonderful character actors who enliven almost everything they are in.


All the Days

If you’re in the mood for a play about a dysfunctional Jewish family that throws zingers at each other but is really loyal and loving underneath, Sharyn Rothstein’s “All the Days” is currently at the McCarter Theater Center in Princeton, New Jersey. Funny and often touching, “All the Days” focuses on the relationships between Ruth, obese and a diabetic,  her uptight daughter Miranda, and Ruth’s realtor sister Monica. Rothstein has written several well-reviewed plays that deal with social issues, and this one is concerned with food addiction and the challenges uncontrollable behavior brings with it. Miranda can’t stand to see her mother eating herself into an early grave, and Ruth just can’t leave the soda alone. All three women have issues with the men in their lives as well, which makes for much of the humor. While the acting is uneven, Caroline Aaron is good as Ruth, and Justin Hagen and Raphael Nash Thompson bring real personality to their roles.

Yiddish Theater and Roz Chast

The Museum of the City of New York has two exhibits that span the Jewish life of the city in a way. New York’s Yiddish Theater: From the Bowery to Broadway examines the growth of Yiddish-language theater from the 1870s through its heyday in the early part of the 20th century to its influence on the Catskills and English-language theaters like the Group. Hugely popular with Yiddish-speaking immigrants, Yiddish theater was built around colorful stars who often ran their own companies. There are lots of posters, playbills, and some film clips, the best of which is Maurice Schwartz playing Tevye. It’s almost certain that Zero Mostel was familiar with that performance.

Roz Chast: Cartoon Memoirs is a delightful voyage deep into Chast-land–a crowded country where everyone is anxious, obsessive, and hilarious. The New Yorker cartoonist seems like the echt-Upper West Sider, even though she’s lived in Connecticut for decades. Born in working-class Brooklyn, the only daughter of culturally-minded public school teachers, Chast is part of that Jules Feiffer-Woody Allen Jewish New York of the second half of the 20th century. Her recent graphic memoir of her parents’ decline “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant” is well represented in the show and surprisingly touching.

Lots to do, so get out of the house.

About the Author
Miriam Rinn is currently a freelance writer based in NJ, where she has lived for several decades. She worked as a children's book editor, a freelance writer and editor, and a communications manager for a nonprofit organization. She is the author of the children's novel "The Saturday Secret," which was recently selected by PJ Our Way. She has two married sons and four granddaughters.
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