Who's In It: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Jason Fuchs
The Basics: Sam (Eisenberg), a young Hasidic guy desperate to do whatever it takes to earn the money he'll need to support his future arranged-marriage wife, falls into the company of Yosef (Bartha), their community's rules-smashing, drug-dealing bad boy. At first Sam's a Maria Full of Grace-style drug mule (airport security just wasn't concerned with checking the bags of Hasidim for huge stashes of Ecstasy) but, as his family learns of his side business and disowns him, he sheds the ultra-Orthodox life for a career of full-time crime. That is, until he gets movie-disillusioned and everything turns into a late '90s rave of reckoning. So in case you needed reminding: law-breaking lifestyles will lead to prison.
What's The Deal: This movie has my brain split in half. Remember the cool drug movie Go, and how it assumed you were already smart enough to know that Drugs Are Bad and Lead to Bad Things, so it dispensed with the typical drug-movie template of people getting high and having an awesome time just before having to crawl through the valley of the dolls in a pool of their own throw-up? That's why that movie was great and that's why this one's not. You've seen this kind of morality play before, probably more times than you can count. But did it teach you to say no? Exactly.
On The Other Hand: It also got me thinking about A Serious Man, last year's Coen Brother's film about a suburban Jewish professor's blackly comic search for meaning. Because as much as this movie wants to be about the novelty clash between strict Hasidim and the depraved outside world, it's also about how religious communities force conformity that causes people to feel like they've got to warp themselves out of it by any means necessary, even if it winds up involving jail time. That plot thread felt real and sad, thanks to Jesse Eisenberg's striving, good-hearted innocent and Justin Bartha's cold, ruined, badass. Their performances carry everything that's true here.
What It Can Teach You, Oh Gentile Viewer: Not a lot. This Texas Baptist left with more nitpicky cultural questions than he came in with. Like why don't Orthodox Jewish kids get a Rumspringa? And what do the different varieties of men's hats mean? And how common is the arranged marriage thing? I know, I know, it's not a documentary. Fortunately it's also not A Stranger Among Us, the one with Melanie Griffith as an undercover cop posing as Hasidic. Now there's a confusing movie. It's like the Jewish Cruising.
Hey Remember That Little Curly Haired Girl Who Was In All The Pepsi Commercials Several Years Back? Well Here's Something To Make You Feel Old: She's all grown up now and playing Jesse Eisenberg's distraught sister. That's because she is Jesse Eisenberg's sister, Hallie.