Jewtopia (Fogel, 2012)

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With a name like Jewtopia, I thought the movie would be mainly about a Jewish family.  But it isn’t. With a name like Jewtopia I thought Jewish people would be the movie’s central target. But they aren’t. Because it’s a “romantic comedy,” I thought it would be funny—but it wasn’t—not really.

The narrative structure is polyphonic: it alternates between the lives of Christian, a bachelor looking to find the Jewish woman of his dreams, and Adam, a Jewish man engaged to a Jewish woman. The two were childhood friends, separated after a botched prank, and reunited by botched relationships. Christian, after being left by his college sweetheart for the sin of “not being Jewish” has enlisted the help of his Jewish friend to help him Judaize himself.

There are plenty of jokes about Jewish stereotypes, but the bad jokes didn’t end with the Jews. Also in the line of fire is the traditional Southern-American family, characterized by the movie as: military, Nascar-loving, and homophobic. The father, played by Peter Stormare, (who interestingly enough is like Swedish, not American) is a military veteran, he’s raised three boys, two of whom have followed in his footsteps and joined the army. Christian has eschewed the military and become a tried and true plumber. In this portrayal, there are certain scenes which a Southern American might be perturbed by: Buck O’Connell, Christian’s father, of some rank in the military, is portrayed as a backwoods homophobic imbecile. His character is unsettling in that it characterizes military members as insufferably dull and impossibly ignorant. Christian’s religiously motivated one-liners seem elementary when compared to Buck’s homophobic slanders. Plus, Christian has to be instructed on how to act in a stereotypical Jewish fashion; his father’s prejudices come naturally.

Juxtaposed against Christian’s love life is our Jewish friend, Adam’s. Adam Lipschitz probably had a yamakah on his head before his umbilical cord (or otherwise) was snipped. Adam’s family are the stock Jewish characters—a miserly penny-pinching dad, who tries to “Jew” Hannah’s father down on the cost of the wedding, asking Hannah’s dad to pick up the tab for things he doesn’t think are ‘wedding expenses,” and an over-bearing, zealously powerful mother who controls every aspect of life from her son’s religion, to the food her husband eats at dinner. (I didn’t realize micromanagement was a trait attributed to a racial class—I was under the impression that all women were said to be of the micro-managing species.) Comedy can get away with pushing the boundaries of good taste, but only if it is funny. Yeah the screen-writer does include all the well-known one-liners about Jewish people. Christian says Allison (Love Hewitt) has a “Jew-beak” nose on their first date.  His subsequent impressions don’t make him much more desirable as a match—what could at this point–but the real problem is that these jokes aren’t funny. They’re the standard sub-par insult you expect to hear either from a middle schooler or in some obsolete Nazi-glory days bar.

Because the jokes are worn-out and over-used, they aren’t effective, and because they aren’t effective, I didn’t find the movie to be edgy enough to be seriously offensive. Though I don’t find the movie particularly hilarious, neither is it as off as offensive as a movie like Ted, nor as forcibly realistic as This is 40. It lacks that certain sting inflicted by other popular satires (e.g. Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, or Django Unchained). Though Bridesmaids isn’t a movie that deals with religion, I think the crudeness of humor in the two movies may be somewhat similar—they both take stressful events and take them to their extreme limits. But alternates its crudeness with repartee and wit, while Jewtopia just keeps striking the same note over and over.

There is some bathroom humor, and an innuendo or two surrounding sex, but it’s done in a way that’s now more familiar than shocking.  To me this sends the signal of “we couldn’t think of anything clever or insightful, so here’s something that will make you talk” (the Miley Cyrus syndrome if you will). There are ways of pushing the envelope beyond nudity, vulgarity, and bathroom humor. With that being said, maybe that’s what the movie has going for it—it’s so busy getting in every possible Jewish joke that, though lacking in wit, it doesn’t drop f bombs, center around potty jokes, or employ large amounts of drug references to make its point. I can appreciate that. Jewtopia was released in select theaters in September 2013 and is also available on cable VOD and download-to-rent.

Claudia Mundy is a Campbell University graduate. She is a writer, a reader, and a runner. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClaudiaMundy.

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