AJFF What to Watch in June

06/7/2021

It’s a month for reconnecting with classics, from 1980s Best Picture to a modern remake of a Mel Brooks classic, with plenty of quintessentially Jewish filmmaking in between. Plus new indie gems hit theaters in the middle of the month.

Video on Demand

The Big Lebowski (coming to Netflix)

In the pantheon of great Jewish filmmakers, the Coen Brothers have more than solidified their place. They’ve put a number of Jewish characters on screen, but the most memorable may be Walter. The Vietnam veteran from The Big Lebowski, as masterfully portrayed by John Goodman, is clearly suffering from PTSD. He is also a Jewish convert, who it should be made very clear, “Doesn’t f---ing roll on Shabbos!” It’s a classic film, but the scenes of Goodman verbally beating down his friends are a thing to behold.


50/50 (coming to Amazon Prime and Hulu)

If you have Hulu or Amazon Prime, you’re set with this Seth Rogen joint. On the surface, it’s not the most Jewy of Jewish cinema, but it’s based on the real-life battle with cancer that Rogen’s (Jewish) friend and writing partner Will Reiser went through. The two Jewish filmmakers translated that experience into a poignant and funny flick starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and (of course) Rogen. The boisterous comedy star has made more overtly Jewish films in his career, but this is one, under-the-radar pick you’ll definitely want to enjoy.


Adaptation (coming to Amazon Prime)

The neurotic Jewish auteur schtick was patented by Woody Allen, long before his offscreen personal relationships soured his legacy, but it’s a trope that’s been picked up by other filmmakers from time to time. Arguably none, however, have nailed it quite so well as Charlie Kaufman in 2002’s Adaptation. The protagonist—a New York Jew like Allen, a screenwriter like Allen—has scenes of awkwardness that are as funny as they are painful. Plus Kaufman is happy to make fun of himself, at least his fictional self, another Allen trope. It’s a weird film, but if you haven’t seen it, you’ll regret missing out this month.


Get Smart (coming to Hulu)

This modern-day remake of the classic TV series didn’t exactly blow up the box office, but how could you not like a comedy helmed by Steve Carell? This campy spoof came out the same summer as that other Jewish spy film, Don’t Mess with the Zohan, but Get Smart has deeper roots. Legendary laugh machines Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created the original show, where it played with covert Jewish angst that was very appropriate for its era. Frankly, you should watch both the original and the feature-length remake.


Ordinary People (coming to Hulu)

Tablet magazine called Ordinary People, “American cinema’s iconic, triumphant case for the life-saving superiority of Jewish emotionalism over WASPy repression,” and that’s as apt a description as any we’ve seen. Judd Hirsch plays—to perfection—the understanding, Jewish psychiatrist to Mary Tyler Moore’s ice-cold, WASP mother. It’s no wonder they both got Academy Award nominations, though the film nabbed statues for, among other things, best picture and best director, Robert Redford.

In Theaters

The Sparks Brothers

Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead and Baby Driver fame. Yes, that Edgar Wright. He has a film coming out in theaters on June 18, and it is unlike any film he’s ever made: it’s a documentary. Specifically, it’s about Sparks, a pop duo made up of Jewish brothers Ron and Russell Mael. They’re like the best band you’ve never heard of, but all your favorite celebrities and musicians love them. The film features commentary from notable fans like Flea, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, and Neil Gaiman, among others. Is there a better film to get back into a theater for? We can’t think of any.


Sublet

An AJFF alum finds its way into wide commercial release on June 11. Sublet was a hit at our 2021 annual festival, which took place virtually this past February. Now is your chance to see it on the big screen. If you missed out, we really can’t stress enough how much audiences raved about this cross-generational melodrama about a middle-aged gay American writer, numbed by tragedy, who finds solace in the company of a younger Israeli man. If the characters and their story weren't enough, consider the film a chance to escape into the beautiful beaches and landscapes of Tel Aviv, where the film is set.


Of Animals and Men

This is a one-time-only opportunity via Fathom Events. If you don’t have plans on June 22, especially if you like Holocaust docs, you’ll be very interested in seeing Of Animals and Men. The tagline should pique your interest: “in times of war, the most endangered species was man.” The documentary recounts the true story of how roughly 300 Jews were sheltered from the Nazis inside the Warsaw Zoo, with the help of the zookeeping Żabiński family. The screening also includes an exclusive feature on the Warsaw Zoo, alongside the film.


A Crime on the Bayou

Another AJFF alum from this past February's festival, A Crime on the Bayou takes a trip back in time to 1966. Gary Duncan, a black teenager, is charged with assault after trying to break up an interracial argument outside a newly integrated school. In a landmark civil rights case, Jewish attorney Richard Sobol left his D.C. law firm to volunteer in New Orleans and stand up to a racist legal system. Their fight for justice eventually landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. This thoroughly captivating documentary lands in select theaters on June 18.