Movie Review: ‘MENASHE’ burrows into the complexities of faith and fatherhood

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

MENASHE

Rated PG, 82 minutes.
Director: Joshua Z Weinstein
Cast: Menashe LustigRuben NiborskiYoel Weisshaus and Meyer Schwartz

How strange it must be to say that A24’s latest film is a good companion piece to 1999’s BIG DADDY. Not that MENASHE has foolish antics comparable to the Adam Sandler film, but because of the universality of a father struggling to make ends meet when the world is against him. Raising a child challenges anyone, but try walking in the shoes of this film’s title character.

Set in a Hasidic neighborhood in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the story sees Menashe (an empathetic Menashe Lustig) shuffling through life with the recent passing of his wife. He raises his son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), alone. Until, that is, a rabbi (Meyer Schwartz) rehashes that their faith requires three things for a child to prosper within a household: have “a good home,” “nice dishes” and “a good wife.”

To keep his son from living under the roof of Menashe’s legalistic brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus), he must prove his worth to his community and family, and find a new life partner.

MENASHE represents a monumental achievement for ace film distributor A24 (the studio behind such titles as the Academy Award-winning MOONLIGHT and last week’s grime-crime thriller GOOD TIME) for several reasons. For starters, A24 presents MENASHE as its first outing into foreign language filmmaking. More interestingly, however, it marks the first film in over 70 years to be performed almost entirely in Yiddish; only a handful of lines are spoken in English and Spanish. At the foundation of these victories is a devout and heartfelt human story of a bond between father and son.

The cast of ‘MENASHE.’ Courtesy of A24.

Menashe is an undeniably strong and complex character for the screen. He constantly disappoints those around him and struggles each and everyday to get to his supermarket job down the road on time. He scans food items day in and day out, rushes his son to and from tutoring, and fails to wear the proper attire of a hat and coat for his faith. But it’s clear early on that Menashe operates on his own agenda. Even when his rabbi asks for him to seek a new wife, it’s only scenes later that Menashe advises an ailing beggar to not marry again because “it’s better for [his] health.”

MENASHE does not bash orthodox Jewish faith or its customs; instead, it tells the story of a man who questions his faith and faces many life-altering lessons to find his way. Like The Big Sick, this is a culturally rich narrative that centers on nurturing relationships through trying times. While MENASHE doesn’t involve a couple’s love (despite a comical and honest scene between Menashe and a woman at a restaurant), it opens a dialogue about practicing faith in an evolving world and how one should also grow within it.

MENASHE is all about growing: A man learns what it takes to be a father and a boy learns what it means to be a man. Though we may not all live in the same community as its characters, the sheer love, commitment and vulnerability involved are all human qualities we can identify with. Let the film shine its gentle light on you and allow you to blossom as well.

Grade: B

Opens Friday in limited release.
Dallas: At the Angelika Film Center in Plano and Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre in Dallas.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.