Rated PG, 82 minutes
In Yiddish with English subtitles
The compelling dramedy "Menashe" is a low-key, humorous look at living in the confines of a strict, Orthodox Jewish society in Brooklyn, New York. It's an auspicious debut for its lead actor, whose life the film is based, and its writer and director Joshua Z. Weinstein.
Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a Hasidic Jewish man who was recently widowed, tries to gain custody of his ten-year-old son Rieven (Ruben Niborski), though he constantly beset by challenges that may prevent him from doing so.
"Menashe" is an unassuming yet well-acted low-budget, independent film that gained enough buzz at this year's Sundance Film Festival in January to be acquired by independent distributor A24. It's directed, co-written, produced and shot by newcomer Weinstein in his feature debut, and loosely based on Lustig's own life; Menashe is a true mensch, but also a schlimazel (yiddish for a person with bad luck), and his setbacks often prevent the genuine and loving father from being the person he really is.
For gentiles, we may have trouble identifying with the Orthodox Jewish culture; filmed on location in some of the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, it has an air of authenticity to it. Yet, to its advantage, we can all relate to Menashe's struggles: money, job, overbearing family, single parenting and even dating as a widower.
At 82 minutes, it only skims the surface of many of these issues, and it occasionally has a Sandler-esque comedy ring to it, but not in a bad way. "Menashe" has its heart in the right place, and it's an enjoyable look facing many of the same challenges we all face, but within the strict layers of a society many of us are unfamiliar with.