Faith Fork |

Sometimes a film is so precise in detail that you know it has to be at least partially autobiographical. This is the case with Simchas and sorrows, the new film written, directed by and starring actress Genevieve Adams. The film, released on VOD after a brief theatrical run, stars Adams as Agnes, a struggling New York actress who, with an unplanned baby on the way, agrees to marry her Jewish boyfriend, Levi. (Thomas McDonell). A non-practicing Catholic who became an atheist, Agnès agrees to convert to Judaism. But the path is more complicated than it seems.

The plot of Simchas and sorrows runs through the gauntlet of controversial topics among Jewish people in the 21st century: interfaith marriage, anti-Semitism, secular/religious tensions, whether a Jew living with a non-Jew can tolerate a Christmas tree in their home, and the temptation to invoke the Holocaust in situations that do not warrant it. It’s a film, thankfully, that takes religious faith and observance seriously. The film touches on the third rail of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a rabbi’s sermon on Yom Kippur that, in many actual synagogues, would likely trigger an emergency session of the temple council as soon as the major holiday ends.

Baby Shiva this is not the case, where a large New York Jewish family in a small space is treated like a claustrophobic terror. Levi’s parents are some of the nicest people in the world, with the dad even giving his son a heartfelt monologue reminiscent of Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech at the end of call me by your name. Levi’s brother and his own converted wife are jerks, but to the point where you can guess early on that a redemption arc is on the way. There is conflict, but it is delayed. The boyfriend suggests that she convert…and she says she will. His Jewish family… approves of him. And no one is outraged by unplanned pregnancy. Simchas and sorrows is messy in ways big and small.

Its nearly two-hour runtime could have been shrunk by about 30 minutes, and it feels like it was so personal to the filmmaker that she didn’t want to lose, say, the multiple scenes set in an office. casting, or her experience playing a prostitute on a movie set. A scene is shot to look like a seduction, even though it shouldn’t be. And the film approaches its unresolved central plot point with a weird, out-of-the-box plot twist. Still, Simchas and sorrows presents New York City well, in the rom-com tradition it tries to emulate, and the performances are decent.

Hari Nef is a high point as a feminist rabbi, having also played a rabbi in the recent sex and the city restart season. Her character is the type of progressive female rabbi that the reform movement has hit on for dozens of the past two decades, without the phenomenon really making it into the movies until now. Nef, the actress, is a trans woman – her arc in the Berlin flashback scenes in the second season of Transparent was the best show that ever happened, but it’s unclear if the character is. John Cullum, of North exposure, is in the 90s and had his first acting credit in 1956. He has some great scenes as Agnes’ grandfather.

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