Written by Joshua Z. Weinstein, Alex Lipschultz, and Musa Syeed
Directed by Joshua Z. Weinstein
Starring Menashe Lustig and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
No matter what our culture is, there are some hopes and fears that are universal.
Proof of that can be found in “Menashe,” the first narrative fiction film from documentary director Joshua Z. Weinstein. The story of a widower in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, “Menashe” both offers an immersive look at a culture many of us aren’t familiar with and a familiar study of a man who’s lost in the world. Though the former is more engaging than the latter, the result feels both honest and profoundly human.
“Menashe” follows the titular character, a Orthodox Jewish widower who works in a convenience store and whose son living with his maternal uncle due to religious laws about children in unmarried homes. It’s clear early on that Menashe is seen as something of a screw-up, always short of cash, not wearing his hat and coat, and paying no attention to the matches the rabbi sends his way. His most redeeming moments are when he spends time with his son, bringing a light to both of them that makes you believe in the connection.
Though there’s a wonderfully intimate quality to the movie, both in the acting and in the filming, I do wish the script had explored Menashe’s thought processes a little more deeply. The movie establishes early on that Menashe has a tendency to talk big and then never follow through, but instead of interrogating or challenging that the movie largely leaves him to stumble through the same patterns again and again without much question until the last 15 or 20 minutes. Had it happened sooner, the entire movie would have been better for it.