THE STORYDeep in the heart of New York’s notoriously secretive Hasidic Jewish community, Menashe, a good-hearted but somewhat hapless grocery store clerk, struggles against tradition to keep custody of his only son after his wife passes away.
THE CAST – Menashe Lustig, Ruben Nidorski, Yoel Weisshaus & Meyer Schwartz
THE TEAM – Joshua Z. Weinstein (Director/Writer), Alex Lipschultz & Musa Syeed (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 81 Minutes
By Matthew G.
Of the thousands of films I’ve seen, I don’t think I can say that I’ve seen one that focuses on the lives of Hasidic Jews. So, when I saw the trailer for “Menashe” that promised an intimate portrait of a widower in New York still processing his grief while trying to raise his son, despite firm cultural opposition, I was intrigued. That intrigue led me to seek it out. I’m glad I did because “Menashe” is a little gem.
Menashe (Menashe Lustig) lost his wife a year ago. The rabbis of his community repeatedly try to find him a new wife because they believe a man should not be alone. But he doesn’t feel ready to move past his grief. Because he remains unmarried, Menashe’s son Rieven (Ruben Nidorski) is required to stay with Menashe’s brother Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus), much to Menashe’s consternation. On top of all his family problems, Menashe also works a job at a grocery story that he hates. All of these troubles cause a great deal of stress for the forlorn man.
Menashe as a character is strongly compelling to watch. He clearly tries hard to make everything in his life work. He wants to be a good father. He wants to enjoy his work. He wants to be a good man. But, he can’t live up to his own expectations. Menashe Lustig as an actor infuses the eponymous character with a benign charm that makes him sympathetic. We, as an audience, want to see him succeed. We feel for him when his fails. We can understand and relate to the pain of his grief, his desire to be a proper father to his son, and his resentment at being held down by rules and regulations imposed by someone else.
In addition to Menashe, Rieven and Eizik feel just as much like real people as Menashe does. Eizik clearly has his nephew’s best interests at heart and clearly wants his brother to improve. But, he is also justified in his frustrations at Menashe’s failures. These thoughts and wishes are well portrayed in the work of Yoel Weisshaus. Similarly, Rieven obviously wants to live with his father and cares very deeply for him, but he still bears a small sliver of resentment caused by Menashe’s ineffectiveness. Such nuance isn’t always easy for a young actor to achieve. But, Ruben Nidorski acquits himself well in the role.
All of these deep-seated emotions are layered throughout the screenplay from director Joshua Z. Weinstein, Alex Lipschultz, and Musa Syeed. Unfortunately, the script is also where the film’s few problems are found. While Menashe is a very sympathetic character, several of his problems are of his own making. It can be frustrating as a view to watch someone continually sabotage himself, regardless of his good intentions. Along those same lines, several scenes just start to feel like scenes we’ve seen earlier in the film. We see Menashe and Eizik arguing with each other multiple times. We see Menashe having a fight with his boss at work more than once. We see Menashe do something irresponsible on numerous occasions. This repetition is especially problematic given the film’s meager 80-minute run-time. But, it doesn’t detract much from the overall film.
In the end, “Menashe” is a quiet little character study. It examines the life of a man’s attempting to fight against his culture’s rigid social norms and be his own man. And yet, he isn’t always able to do what he needs to because he gets in his own way. Menashe Lustig anchors the film with a solid performance. And director Joshua Z. Weinstein gives the audience a glimpse insight the Hasidic culture that most people don’t get to see, making “Menashe” a film I recommend.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – An interesting look at a typically insular culture. A charming protagonist trying his best to make his life work. A well formed cast of characters whose points of view are clear and who all have reasonable motivations.
THE BAD – Sympathy for the protagonist’s struggles only goes so far. Some of the scenes feel repetitive. The story is stretch a bit too thing for an 80 minute film.
THE FINAL SCORE – 7/10