‘Together Together’ Review Review

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Together Together (CREDIT: Bleecker Street/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Ed Helms, Patti Harrison, Julio Torres, Rosalind Chao, Tig Notaro, Sufe Bradshaw, Fred Melamed, Nora Dunn, Anna Konkle, Evan Jonigkeit, Jo Firestone

Director: Nikole Beckwith

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: April 23, 2021

Now that I’ve seen Together Together, I’ve got to wonder, can I now call it “Together Together … Together“? Do Ed Helms and Patti Harrison have room for a third. And would that third be anybody (and everybody) in the audience to see their little film? That might sound like an awkward arrangement, but it surely fits with the vibe of a fortysomething single dad-to-be forging a tight platonic bond with his twentysomething surrogate. But anyway, what I’d really like to focus on is Anna Konkle, who shows up for one scene as a New Age-y birthing coach. Excuse me while I fan myself. Also, Nora Dunn and Fred Melamed are on duty as Ed Helms’ parents, which is significant because I’ve also seen both of them in other parental roles recently (Dunn on the new ABC sitcom Home Economics and Melamed in the sensational Shiva Baby).

Grade: Julio-Torres-as-One-Man-Greek-Chorus Energy


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Shiva Baby (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Danny Defararri, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Dianna Agron

Director: Emma Seligman

Running Time: 77 Minutes

Rating: Unrated

Release Date: April 2, 2021

After watching the very Jewish Shiva Baby, I discovered that its lead, Rachel Sennott, is not Jewish but Italian Catholic. Meanwhile, Dianna Agron, who plays the shiksa wife, is Jewish! But after the initial shock wore off, I realized that this actually wasn’t terribly unbelievable. American Jews and Italian-American Catholics do have some cultural similarities after all, especially if we’re talking about the ones in or around the New York City area. Sennott is from Simsbury, Connecticut, which is fairly close to NYC, while Agron was born in Georgia and raised in Texas and California, so perhaps the real difference is geographical. So much of American cinematic Jewish culture is New York Jewish culture!

Anyway, I enjoy stories about people with taboo jobs who are also just taking care of their lives, you know? And that certainly applies here as Sennott plays Danielle, a soon-to-be college grad who makes extra cash through a sugar daddy app. While attending a shiva with her parents, she runs into one of her clients, and it’s about as awkward as you can possibly imagine! Throw in some bagels, a bunch of nosy aunts and family friends, and a confrontational childhood friend/ex-fling, and that’s Shiva Baby!

Grade: 3-5 Bagels out of 1 Ripped Pair of Tights

‘The Vigil’ Puts a Hasidic Spin on Supernatural Horror

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The Vigil (CREDIT: IFC Midnight)

Starring: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Lynn Cohen, Malky Goldman, Fred Melamed

Director: Keith Thomas

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Creepy Creatures Who Have No Concerns About People’s Mental Health

Release Date: February 26, 2021 (Theaters and On Demand)

The Vigil is the sort of movie that tells you exactly as much setup information as you need to know in case you’re not a member of the community where it takes place. I would pitch it as a sort of Orthodox Jewish spin on The Babadook, with a few elements of The Grudge thrown in as well. At the heart of the film is the role of a “shomer,” a person who fulfills the task of looking over the body of a recently deceased person until it’s buried. Typically, this is performed by a family member, but in cases where that’s not an option, there can be shomers hired from outside the family. That’s where Yakov Ronen’s (Dave Davis) story begins when his old rabbi (Menashe Lustig) shows up asking for a favor.

Yakov used to be a member of the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood, but he’s recently opted for a less rigidly religious existence. But the community isn’t quite done with him, particularly in the form of Rabbi Reb Shulem, who offers him a few hundred bucks to be the shomer until dawn for an old man named Mr. Litvak whose widow (Lynn Cohen) lives alone and supposedly suffers from Alzheimer’s. Yakov could certainly use the cash, though he’s not sure it’s worth it since he’s been trying to cut off all contact with Reb. Ultimately, though, he takes the job, but it ends up being a lot more than he bargained for when evil spirits that had been haunting Mr. Litvak start turning their attention towards Yakov.

As in The Babadook, the supernatural forces in The Vigil also work metaphorically as a manifestation of the main character’s psychological state. The specifics of who or what these spooky beings really are is never specified, but ultimately that’s beside the point. I can imagine that Jewish folkloric creatures like dybbuks and the ghosts of the Holocaust served as inspiration. But what is most important here is the anxiety that Yakov is experiencing as a young man riddled by memories of guilt and trauma who’s also attempting to move forward in his life by learning fairly common but frequently challenging behaviors like learning how to talk to girls. Serving as a shomer on this particular night is like an hours-long panic attack manifesting as his worst nightmares come to life. It’s a gauntlet that could potentially lead to hospitalization or even a descent into Hell, or it could instead make him the strongest Yakov he’s ever been if he manages to somehow get through it. And those of us watching are liable to experience some secondhand catharsis.

The Vigil is Recommended If You Like: The Babadook, Spirits sneaking into technology, Cathartic horror

Grade: 4 out of 5 Shomers