Yank that wig, girl
It’s always weird to me when “thoughtful” dramas get released in the Spring, rather than in the late Fall to curry favor from the various awards shows. Perhaps the producers didn’t believe the film could hack it in what’s becoming an increasingly competitive time of the year, so they’re pushing to earlier lulls in the year to snatch some attention. And what better way to get butts in seats than to serve as an anti-Marvel film…oh and avoid a crap ton of other rivals because many of the big shots saw all the impaled skulls lying around Disney’s cave. So let’s talk about the uncontroversial topic of homosexuality in Jewish Orthodox community in London…fun times?
Our protagonist is Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz), a photographer living in New York City when she gets word that her estranged father has unexpectedly died. Going back to London to pay her respects, she’s met with awkwardness and confusion by the various members of the Jewish Orthodox community who she ran away from years prior and held her father in the highest respect as their main rabbi. But a lot of mixed feelings come notably from her former best friend, Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), who became her father’s confidant and all-but-assumed heir to the late rabbi’s congregation; as well as another former closer friend, Esti (Rachel McAdams). The latter is particularly unnerved by Ronit’s presence, as the two shared a strong bond before Ronit’s departure, one that teetered upon romantic.
Teeny spoiler (though the trailer and poster pretty much gives it away), Ronit and Enit’s relationship is very romantic, but the trailer also made it seem like this film was going to be an exploration on the idea of homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community. What’s weird is that the film doesn’t really spend too much time talking about this subject. Rather, this is more of a straightforward character drama with a plot hanging over the character’s heads driving the action forward, and removing the film from becoming another slice-of-life yarn. However, where Disobedience falls short is that the actual plot doesn’t seem mildly as interesting as the character conflicts between our three main players as a result of Ronit’s return to London. See the plot is mostly concerned with Ronit reconnecting with her old stomping grounds following her estranged father’s death, but the dearly departed is strangely not brought up very often with Ronit. Rather, she mostly argues with her family and her community about her life choices, but what lead to the fallout between Ronit and her father is pretty much left in shadow.
While this point may have been a deliberate move on part of the filmmakers, it just makes the dead father aspect completely pointless and honestly unnecessary. Maybe if the specter of Ronit’s father haunted the decisions of the characters more, his death would have had more of an impact on the plot or the players; but as it stands, it’s mostly used as a convenient plot device to bring our three protagonists together. Or rather, our 2.5 protagonists together, as we get to know Rachel Weisz’s and Rachel McAdams’ character’s pretty well, but the character of Dovid is really lacking. I doubt this was a deliberate choice on part of the filmmakers, as we spend a significant portion of screen time with him but we honestly don’t know him very well. Which is a shame, as Alessandro Nivola did a solid job with what he was provided and effectively communicated the awkwardness in dealing with Ronit once more in a completely different stage of his life and forming a closer bond with her father than she ever did.
Thankfully, the characters of Ronit and Esti are truly better written, and their mutual attraction to one another comes across as relatable and realistic. Further, both Weisz and McAdams do a phenomenal job in communicating solid chemistry between the two of them as well as some fierce sexual tension that makes some of the more…boneheaded decisions their respective characters make much more believable. Also, I’ll give bonus points for not depicting their romance in any exploitative light, which is commendable considering their love making scene goes on for a good seven or so minutes. There’s a fine line between tasteful sex scenes and trashy ones, so props to the director Sebastian Lelio and his co-writing partner, Rebecca Lenkiewicz for that.
What I did wish I saw more of was an exploration into the lives of the Orthodox Jewish community as well as their own views into homosexuality. The film barely touches upon this subject and instead focuses on the far more tame subject of women choosing to live outside the very structured lives of the community, as well as elders’ beliefs as to the role females should play in their society. I say “tame” because we’ve seen this subject covered elsewhere and in a more spectacular fashion when talking about other communities, but the idea of gay persons who are also raised Orthodox Jewish presents tons of questions to explore. Which is why it’s slightly frustrating to me that film takes every possible avenue to avoid talking about it. Even when the nature of Ronit and Esti’s relationship becomes public, you don’t even hear characters talk about it but you rather have to see characters talking behind closed doors on the subject. Hell, the character of Dovid barely gets a word in about what’s going on between them before he has to move to a pretty rushed conclusion to the whole affair.
By the end of the movie, I saw why this wasn’t marketed as a heavy awards-contender: it’s very muddled in its thesis bolstered only by occasionally great writing and solid performances from all of your leads. There was a ton of potentially great ideas to explore here, but they were all ignored in favor of something far safer. So with that, I’ll give this a low…
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