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Holy Rollers (2010)

January 12, 2012

MY CALL:  If you like Jesse Eisenberg, you’ll like this.  It’s really that simple.  And for everyone who’s been yearning for an Hasidic Blow, this is the film you’ve been waiting for!  IF YOU LIKE THIS, WATCH:  Most good movies allow us to watch characters develop.  In Holy Rollers, we see Eisenberg transform.  Other character-transformative films include Almost Famous, Donnie Brasco and The Devil’s Double.  The parallels between these movies and Holy Roller are strong.

Set in 1998, our story (inspired by true events) follows a twenty year old Hasidic Jew (Sammy) who is every bit as quirky as the actor playing the role (Jesse Eisenberg; Roger Dodger, Zombieland, The Social Network)—but, then, Eisenberg is always twitchy, isn’t he?  Feeling the normal Hasidic coming-of-age pressures as he is about to be married, he is morally taunted by his rebellious, fast-talking, unorthodox neighbor Yosef (Justin Bartha; National Treasure 1 & 2, The Hangover, The Hangover 2) who watches reality shows, talks about fake titties, and smokes.  Just FYI, these do not follow the typical Hasidic canon.

Living in a financially struggling household and helping with the family business, Sammy worries about providing for his future arranged wife.  So, he naively accepts an offer from Yosef to import “medicine” from Amsterdam.  Upon their return, Sammy discovers that they had been moving drugs (ecstasy) and feels conflicted about it.  From this point, we see Sammy slowly transform, shedding his morals one by one, into a drug dealer’s right hand man.

Sammy and his humble father wrestle about the importance of money versus happiness as he lies to him about his whereabouts.  The father’s character, while little more than ancillary, brings a strong sincerity to the film; a moral compass that keeps the audience from becoming slowly corrupted without noticing the change—much as Sammy is, scene by scene, throughout the story.  Sammy slips smoothly into the clothes of another personality completely unaware until he turns and sees his former self in his wake, like a hollow cast chrysalis.

As Yosef, Bartha, whom we’re accustomed to seeing in more charming roles innocently sporting an “aw shucks” smile, performs brilliantly as Sammy’s loose cannon field trainer.  Jackie (Sammy and Yosef’s dealer-employer) is a noteworthy character as well. And his girlfriend, Rachel, is much like Almost Famous’ Kate Hudson.

A few jabs were taken at the Jewish community by way of some well-placed lines…

Referring to a drug dealer, Eisenberg asks “Do you trust him?” Bartha replies with “Of course. He’s Jewish.”

Bartha, insinuating that no one would suspect the Jewish people of moving drugs, advises Eisenberg to “Relax, mind your business, and act Jewish.”

Drug Dealer: “I’ve never heard Jews complain so much about making money. Jesus Christ!”

Bartha, rationalizing his profession, explains “You know, Jews have been smuggling for thousands of years.”

See this movie.  It’s got solid actors and well-written characters.

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