'When Do We Eat?'
This Passover isn't necessarily funny, but it provides some food for thought
"When Do We Eat?" wisely chooses to approach Passover within the very conventional dysfunctional-home-for-the-holidays genre. It can be slotted in nicely next to more mainstream like "The Family Stone" or "Myth of Fingerprints." It's Seder night and loud patriarch Ira Stuckman (Michael Lerner) and eager-to-please matriarch (Lesley Ann Warren) are ready to play host to their entire brood, a family that includes stoner son Zeke (Ben Feldman), newly Orthodox son Ethan (Max Greenfield), sex surrogate daughter Nikki (Shiri Appleby), autistic son Lionel (Adam Lamberg), lesbian daughter Jennifer (Meredith Scott Lynn), Jennifer's black Christian girlfriend (Cynda Williams) and the Holocaust-fearing grandfather (Jack Klugman). Seders are already crazy, but when Zeke spikes Ira's antacid with Ecstasy, things get really trippy.
There are 11 or 12 main characters in "When Do We Eat?," which meshes very poorly with the film's single location, a nice suburban home and a dining tent out back. Too many scenes are just cutting around the dinner table for minutes at a time as people talk to each other. When the pace lags, Litvak just has somebody yell. If the yelling fails, he has one family member dive at another and start choking. There's a lot of narrative insecurity, so the director has to try a bit too hard to convince viewers that the movie's funny. It mostly isn't, particularly with so many actors trying so hard to play Jewish.
Most of the cast members actually are Jewish, which makes their mugging and stereotype-mongering distracting at times. Lerner and Klugman would have been believable as Members of the Tribe without occasionally masquerading as extras from "Fiddler on the Roof." I liked the younger actors -- Appleby, Feldman, Greenfield and Mili Avital -- a lot more.
An older Jewish woman at the press day for this movie was disgusted by it, saying that it was a disgraceful representation of our people. That's where I disagree. "When Do We Eat?" is certainly an ugly depiction of this particular family, yet I found it did a much better job touching on the rituals and, more importantly, the meaning of the holiday, capturing some of the spiritual values of Passover if not necessarily the letter-of-the-law observance. It goes into issues of contemporary Judaism that are never even hinted at in most films, touching on the ways that many American families celebrate, pray and relate. The Seder in the film wasn't exactly like any that I've attended in the past, but something somewhere felt right.
There's value in that.