(No longer in theaters)
First Independent Pictures
May 21, 2010
It’s too bad Robert Eisenberg used the name Boychiks in the Hood for his excellent book about Hasidic life, because Kevin Asch’s Holy Rollers—inspired by the story of Hasidic Jews recruited in the nineties to serve as “mules” for bringing Ecstasy into the country—could use a snazzier title. It could use more sex and violence, too, although there’s only so much you can do with a story that ends not with carnage but some jail time and brokenhearted bubbes. The congenitally high-strung Jesse Eisenberg plays 20-year-old Brooklyn black-hat Sam Gold, who’s starting to chafe under Orthodoxy’s restrictions, especially when the family of the girl he wants to marry nixes him in favor of someone more scholarly. (On their one and only date—sitting on opposite sides of the sofa—she says she wants eight kids. And the poor sap is still torn up about losing her!) Sam is easy pickings for his neighbor Yosef (Justin Bartha), who’s like a Hasidic Honest John in Pinocchio: “Hey, pssst, kid, yeah you, with the payis … ” Yosef is great because he says “fuck” a lot and talks about sex. And, by and by, Sam discovers he’s pretty good at managing Hasidic couriers and likes being fondled by a badass Israeli drug dealer’s dyed-blonde Jewish moll (Ari Graynor). On the other hand, he feels shame when his bearded father looks up from the Torah and sees My Son the Drug Mule.
Holy Rollers fuses a somber, old-world palette with a jittery
urban unease—a good mix of tones. It’s also wonderfully acted. Eisenberg
is peerless at playing man-boys who overintellectualize and fall over
their own feet. Bartha is irresistibly good-bad company. The problem is
that Asch depicts Sam’s situation as either/or—i.e., a choice between
reading Torah and making babies or smuggling drugs and going to jail.
The film never raises the sure-to-ruffle-feathers question of how
fundamentalist outsider cultures sometimes foster secrecy and deception.
It’s too holy in its certainties, like those fifties sex-ed films where
you don’t listen to Dad and wind up with chlamydia.