(This article on Jewish themed films being released in Australia on “Boxing Day” – 26 December 2015 – appeared in The Australian Jewish News on 24 December 2015, in a shorter form.)
“Joy” (20th Century Fox), directed by David O. Russell, continues his run of great hits, having already received two Golden Globe nominations, for best picture (musical/comedy) and for Jennifer Lawrence (best actress musical/comedy). Although usually identified as Jewish, Russell continues to insist that he is an atheist.
Russell specialises in making stories about relatively unknown and off-beat Americans who become “larger than life” on the big screen. His “American Hustle” had 10 Academy Award nominations, and who can forget Irving Rosenfeld’s (Christian Bale) “comb-over”? In his new film, the biographical comedy-drama “Joy”, Russell charts the (real) life of Joy Mangano (Lawrence), a Long Island single mother and the entrepreneurial inventor of “Miracle Mop”, “Huggable Hangers” and almost 100 other new products. Robert De Niro plays her father, Rudy, and Bradley Cooper (a frequent Russell collaborator) plays Neil Walker, a Home Shopping Network executive. Cute Jewish trivia: Melissa Rivers, the daughter of the late Jewish comedian Joan Rivers and the late producer Edgar Rosenberg, has a cameo role, playing her own mother “Joan Rivers”. Here is a YouTube clip from the film showing Melissa Rivers as her mother, Joan:
“Suffragette” (Transmission) is set in early 20th century Britain and charts, through a range of fictional and real characters, the rise and ultimate success of the “Suffragette” (women’s right to vote) movement in that country. Director Sarah Gavron (“Brick Lane”) is Jewish (profiled in this paper earlier this month): her father is the late publishing millionaire and philanthropist Lord Robert Gavron.
“Suffragette” opened the London Film Festival in October, and has received particular praise for its cast, notably Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, with both actresses tipped for possible Oscar nominations, and the film itself as a “Best Picture” contender. Meryl Streep also appears, although the film’s trailer suggests that Streep’s character is more important than it really is.
Sadly, no Jewish characters appear in “Suffragette”, although a number of Jewish women played important roles through the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage, including Henrietta Franklin and her sister, social worker Lily Montagu, a founder of Britain’s first Liberal Jewish movement. (Other notable Jews such as Israel Zangwill and Sir Rufus Isaacs voiced strong support.) Jewish involvement was significant enough that the Jewish Museum of London recently mounted an exhibition about them entitled “blackguards in bonnets”.
“Youth” (StudioCanal) is the latest effort from Academy Award-winning Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”). The film stars Michael Caine – who has the distinction of being nominated for an Academy Award in five consecutive decades – and Harvey Keitel. They play best friends on holiday in the Swiss Alps, reflecting on their lives. The film is meditative, an carefully crafted “eternal struggle between age and youth, the past and the future, life and death, commitment and betrayal.”
Keitel is the Brooklyn-born son of Jewish immigrants from Romania and Poland. He studied acting under legendary Jewish drama coach Stella Adler, and has had fascinating Jewish roles, including Judas in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ”, Jake Berman in “The Two Jakes” and Mickey Cohen in “Bugsy”. Another Jewish actor in the film is Rachel Weisz, the British daughter of Austrian and Hungarian refugees, who will soon star as Professor Deborah Lipstadt in “Denial”, based on Lipstadt’s book “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier”, that describes her court battle with David Irving. Jane Fonda has also received a Golden Globe nomination for her supporting role in “Youth” as an ageing film star.
“Trumbo” tells the story of blacklisted scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). Although Trumbo was not Jewish, the Hollywood “blacklist” of left-wing and Communist sympathisers in the late 1940s and early 1950s was substantially directed at Jews working in the film industry. Many Jewish characters appear in this film, including Otto Preminger, Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow), Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg). Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper. Directed by Jay Roach. Review to come.
(Photo of Sarah Gavron below.)