Various Positions (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Various Positions relates the story of a love affair
between Josh, a college student from a conservative Jewish family
and, Cheryth, a completely secular young half-Jewish woman who moves
into the neighboring dorm room. Josh's parents are orthodox, and
extremely punctilious in their observations of Jewish law. His
father, for example, is considering disinterring every body in a
Jewish cemetery because a non-Jew was unknowingly buried there. As
conservative as they are, his parents seem like atheists compared
to his younger brother, who appears to be only about fourteen years
old and yet has apparently memorized the entire body of
Jewish law and teachings from the time of Moses to
the present day, including all various scholarly interpretations and
Josh is not very religious, but he avoids disrespecting his parents, so when he's around them he hides his 7-Eleven Ham Burritos and plays the unleavened bread game. Needless to say, Cheryth is just not Jewish enough for Josh's family. No surprise there. Moses wouldn't have been Jewish enough for this group. Josh's dad offers him three options: get Cheryth to convert to orthodoxy, dump her, or be banished forever from their family. In some cases, Josh's answer might have been a middle finger, but this is a complicated situation. First of all, he truly respects his dad, who survived the holocaust to become a famous attorney, and his mom, who was instrumental in the founding of Israel. In addition, he really doesn't know Cheryth that well. He likes her. He loves her as much as a man may love a woman he just met, but he's also seen worrisome elements of her personality and Josh wonders if their tenuous love connection is deep enough to make him turn his back on his family.
How does the dilemma get resolved? Well, I reckon you'll have to watch the movie to find that out, but I can reveal that the film does not offer any simplistic Hollywood solutions. Dude, it's not a Reese Witherspoon movie. It's complicated, like life itself.
In fact, this film is about as far from a Hollywood movie as any North American film can be. That presents measures of good and bad. The strongest element of the film is that the script is about lovers who have to make decisions which will affect the rest of their lives, long after the events portrayed in an 81 minute movie, rather than the Hollywood approach of "lovers embrace, music swells, closing credits scroll because they are back together and nothing else matters, dammit!" The obverse side of the anti-Hollywood coin is that Various Positions has about zero commercial appeal, and lots of moments which ring of "Hey, kids, my dad has a barn, let's put on a show!" It was written and directed by a Canadian film school student. The film's star also wrote some of the musical score. It was filmed entirely on digital video in mundane locations. The budget appears to have been in the range of eleven dollars - and that's not eleven greenbacks, but eleven dollars worth of pink and purple Beaver Bucks. In spite of that nagging amateurishness, however, the film is at least an earnest attempt to portray real people trying to work their way through difficult situations, and it portrays life as complex rather than simple. It does not offer a facile "love conquers all" message, not does it scorn parents who adhere to traditional values despite the pressures of the modern world. There is much to be said for that, even when the situations are not easy for us to identify with.
Can I say it is a bad movie? Absolutely not. It has merit, but its quiet successes will be celebrated by only a tiny audience. I would never have watched it if Carly Pope had not done a sex scene, and I found it both tedious and painfully amateurish at times, but I also liked and admired it at other times.
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