"Disaffected Exiles Lost in New York"
What You Need To Know:
ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH has too many stories. Only intermittent scenes are compelling. Not helping matters is some abrupt editing, cryptic or confusing dialogue, and amateurish acting. Ultimately, the movie is a humanist attack on religious tradition, which is represented by Orthodox Judaism. As such, it contains strong foul language, brief nudity, depicted drug use, and a pro-homosexual subplot. ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH is politically correct, but not extremely didactic. Its content, however, is unacceptable.
(HHH, PCPCPC, AbAbAb, HoHo, B, LLL, VV, SS, NN, AA, DDD, MMM) Humanist, politically correct, left-leaning attack on religious tradition, which is represented in the movie by Orthodox Judaism (including woman says she hates Orthodox Jewish culture), with a pro-homosexual subplot, plus some drug references and criminal behavior aren’t rebuked strongly enough, plus some light positive references to God and faith in a Jewish context but any real, positive morality is virtually nonexistent though there are some references to motherhood and people are seen helping others in need but two of the main people in need are lying about their need; 24 obscenities (including many “f” words), three strong profanities, one light profanity; strong violence includes fighting with knives, three men die in fights, two men fight with swords or sword-like thin pipes, Romeo drinks poison, Juliet tries to drink poison when she finds Romeo dead; depicted, somewhat artsy bedroom scene with married couple under sheets making love but no actual intercourse though there’s brief explicit nudity, sensuous kissing, woman who may be a prostitute leaves man’s bed in the morning while covering herself up with the sheets, talk about making love in poetic Shakespearean terms, and a non-salacious hug between two men apparently are having a homosexual affair; upper female nudity and upper male nudity in bedroom scene; alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking cigarettes, many references to marijuana, man snorts cocaine, and man shown opening packet of heroin and later almost overdoses, but there’s nothing else other than that which rebukes the pro-drug behavior; and, stealing, living on the streets, men run up $20,000 on stolen credit card at fancy hotel but it’s kind of forgotten, feuding, young men have aimless lives, attempted deceit, fraud when man poses as a lame man to beg for money.
An interesting concept gets waylaid by modern humanist angst and political correctness in ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH. The title is deceiving because only half the movie is a filmed presentation of William Shakespeare’s play. The rest of the plot is a confusing comedy about an alienated Jewish woman and mother, who gathers several disaffected young men from New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities to help her translate Shakespeare’s play into Yiddish.
After a brief, perplexing prologue about two Yiddish sisters, the disjointed story opens on the Jewish woman, an older graduate student working as a nurse. Ava accepts $5,000 to translate Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET into Yiddish. Apparently, she’s had some earlier experiences in the Yiddish-speaking sub-culture of Orthodox Jews in New York. Her professor tells her, “You’re Jewish. You should like this!”
Despite her experiences, however, Ava soon gets frustrated with the complex, difficult language. Two alienated young refugees from the Orthodox community, Lazer and Mendy, accept her offer to help her translate the play, but they know nothing about Shakespeare. That’s because the Orthodox communities from which they ran frowns on teaching such things.
Lazer and Mendy are living in a van on the streets of New York. They’ve become scam artists, often posing as beggars or performing petty thefts. They also like to smoke marijuana. ([SPOILER ALERT] Later, it turns out Mendy is also a homosexual in lust with a Muslim man. The movie implies that neither of their families is very happy about that.)
When you hire Lazer and Mendy, you get their friends. Also in the mix is a mentally confused young Jewish man who thinks the Kaballah magic inside him is leaking out. The movie actually shows magical stars escaping from his fingers. As Ava, Lazer, and Mendy talk about the play and translate it, the Kaballah man creates a performance of the play in an alternate reality. In the play, Lazer is Romeo and the beautiful sister from the opening scene is Juliet. In this Yiddish version, the feuding Montagues and Capulets become two feuding Orthodox sects, one with beards and one with Jewish forelocks.
ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH has too many stories. The performance of parts of ROMEO AND JULIET become more interesting than the rather confused story about Ava, her mysterious past, and the alienated Jewish men. It too, however, feels somewhat disjointed as the movie scoots back and forth among all these different plots. Not helping matters is some abrupt editing, cryptic or confusing dialogue, and amateurish acting.
[SPOILERS FOLLOW] About halfway through the movie, a scene shows that Ava is using the $5,000 to locate her daughter, who turns out to be the young beautiful Yiddish woman portraying Juliet. Apparently, this daughter was the result of a romance or marriage Ava had with an Orthodox Jewish man that didn’t work out. Also, Ava’s relationship with this man and his culture left a bitter taste in her mouth. This sometimes comes out in Ava’s expressions of hatred for the Orthodox Jewish culture. This scene comes far too late in the movie, even though it’s tied to the brief opening prologue. It’s also kind of confusing in the way it’s written, shot, and performed. Such disjointed filmmaking is simply annoying!
Amazingly, another plot is added toward the end of the movie. Lazer and Mendy abruptly end their work for Ava before completing the translation. After they disappear, Ava discovers they’ve stolen her credit card and run up $20,000 in bills at a fancy hotel. Only a near tragedy brings some closure to everything.
In the midst of all this, the movie’s contemporary Yiddish version of ROMEO AND JULIET just gets a bit lost. That’s rather sad, because some of the scenes shown are nicely done. This also doesn’t help the movie’s other stories, which also could have been more captivating if they were made into their own movies.
Ultimately, ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH becomes a humanist attack on religious tradition, which is represented by Orthodox Judaism. As such, it contains strong foul language, brief nudity in an artsy sex scene, depicted drug use, and a pro-homosexual subplot. At the end, it’s revealed that one of the Jewish men was excommunicated from his Orthodox sect because he fell in lust with another man who happened to be a Muslim.
ROMEO AND JULIET IN YIDDISH is politically correct, but not extremely or constantly didactic. Its humanist worldview, obscene content, and explicit drug references, however, are unacceptable. So is its tagline, “Sects, Drugs & Rock ‘N’ Roll.”
MOVIEGUIDE® really wanted to see ROMEO AND JULIET performed in Yiddish. Too bad the filmmakers had other things on their minds.