This domestic comedy-drama from Salvador Litvak is clearly designed to be something akin to “My Big Fat Jewish Seder,” and to an extent it certainly succeeds. The picture feeds off the same vein of ethnic humor that marked that surprise smash, and aims at a warm-hearted close that brings everybody together. And it deals in stereotyping so crude that one has to be surprised at the degree of acceptance it may receive from those whose culture it spotlights. Despite the fact that the meal served is kosher, the recipe is so hammy that the movie proves pretty indigestible, like a vaudeville routine gone wrong.
The head of this highly dysfunctional clan is Ira Stuckman (Michael Lerner), the harried owner of a Christmas ornament company. He’s married to his second wife Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren), who’s planning a highly traditional Passover meal–held in a tent outside, put up by immigrant Rafi (Mark Ivanir), with whom she seems to be having an affair–in order to please her son Ethan (Max Greenfield), an erstwhile financial wheeler-dealer whose portfolio collapsed and has become Hasidic, much to the distress of his father. The other children are druggie high schooler Zeke (Ben Feldman), autistic Lionel (Adam Lamberg), sex “therapist” Nikki (Shiri Appleby), and–from Ira’s first marriage–embittered Jennifer (Meredith Scott Lynn), who brings her gay significant other Grace (Cynda Williams), an evangelical Christian, along. Also on hand is Ira’s father Artur (Jack Klugman), a Holocaust survivor ready for another explosion of anti-Semitism, who continues to grieve the loss of Ira’s brother (whom he apparently preferred), especially since Ira closed down the hat business in which the family long specialized to open a “Christian” operation instead. And then there’s cousin Vanessa (Mili Avital), a celebrity handler constantly on her cell phone who had a fling with Ethan in his former life and still has the hots for him.
The big joke in the script is that while Ira promises the quickest seder of all time, it drags on into one of the longest, because past and present problems rear up and–in a plot twist of very questionable taste–Ira’s personality mellows considerably when jokester Zeke, a selfish, irresponsible moron it would appear, decides to spruce up his father’s antacid with a dose of Ecstasy. The drug makes Ira become positively Mosaic (cue some rather primitive special effects) and occasions a series of recriminations, spats, reconciliations and revelations–the most unlikely of the latter being one involving Lionel, which proves that the complete lack of responsibility is not all in Zeke’s court.
The cast do what they can with all this, but they’re mostly encouraged by Litvak to play to the rafters, and since almost the entire thing is acted out in the very confined atmosphere of the seder tent, the performances soon become oppressive. Technical credits are okay, though there’s a hint of vulgarity in the production design and David Mullen’s cinematography is more utilitarian than imaginative.
If you’ll pardon the pun, unless you’re a devotee of the broadest forms of ethnic humor, this is one seder you should probably pass over in silence.