“Simchas & Sorrows” is a New York dramedy built around a Catholic-Jewish relationship, an unfortunately drab little movie entirely too tentative for its own good.
Its “edge” is the call for one member of the couple to “convert,” something the movie pokes at with trigger phrases like “chosen people,” “Palestine,” “tribal unity” and “fear of diluting our heritage,” which, any way you say it, can’t help but sound racist.
But writer-director Genevieve Adams’ script backs away from that edge when it counts, and can’t find a laugh to save its or her life.
Throw in the fact that veteran bit player Adams makes herself the lead, and probably realizes only now that she’s too inexpressive and bland to carry a picture, even her own.
Yes, that photo above aptly captures her performance.
She plays Agnes, who even as a child, pondered the difference between Catholicism and Judaism when she figured out that hey, Jesus was a Jew, after all.
As an adult, aspiring actress/aspiring playwright/elementary school drama teacher and sometime Zumba instructor Agnes finds out she’s pregnant the day her beau, Levi (Thomas McDonnell) throws a “surprise” proposal party, with his family pouring onto their roof-patio, all “Mazel tovs” and “Oy veys.”
“Simcha & Sorrows” leans into the Hebrew and Yiddish exclamations and Jewish kvetching and kvelling stereotypes. A few of the attempted laughs come from pregnant actress Agnes trying to “fit in” and deploy such words like a pro to her fiance, her Jewish agents, her husband and in-laws and the rabbi (Hari Nef) who leads their “Journey into Judaism” conversion class.
Those jokes, like too much of this sad-mouthed rom-com, fall flat.
The potential for real conflict is introduced and basically abandoned as the script struggles to figure out what it wants to say. The problem is, one suspects, that figuring out what one CANNOT say ate up a lot of time in the writing and financing as well.
Testy debates in their “Journey” class cut off with invocations of “anti-Semitism” and “The Holocaust.” This is promising ground for a debate between an atheist, in Agnes’ case, or others “marrying into” the faith, and “the tribe,” almost uniformly depicted as dogmatic, uncompromising and thin-skinned.
John Cullum charms in a couple of scenes as Agnes’ aged ex-Broadway hoofer granddad. He even sings.
Nefi, who has played her share of rabbis, almost makes this one funny.
And Annelise Cepero sets off a few sparks as an obnoxious influencer/brand ambassador and “healer,” converting so that she’s allowed to marry Levi’s equally obnoxious brother.
The “Simcha” in the title translates to “joy” or “joys.” It was also the name of the late Jewish screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky’s production company.
But “Simchas & Sorrows” doesn’t have much of either.
The conflict is watered-down, the picture has no urgency or pacing, the “sparks” are in short supply, and Adams’ deadpan take on Agnes may play to her strengths, or be the only note she knows and we can’t tell the difference.
Rating: unrated, adult themes
Cast: Genevieve Adams, Thomas McDonnell, Hari Nef, Luke Forbes, Annalise Cepero, Chip Zien and Johyn Cullum.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Genevieve Adams. A Gravitas Ventures release.
Running time: 1:57