When Do We Eatr

The bickering Stuckman Family is getting together for the annual Passover Seder, including parents Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren) and Ira (Michael Lerner) and their wide assortment of children, cousins, and whoever else decides to show up. Already a tempestuous evening, things soon fly out of control when Ira is dosed with ecstasy by his drug addict son (Ben Feldman), which reopens old wounds inside Ira, reminding him of his own childhood, and the constant pressure he places on his brood today.

Billed as the first Passover comedy, “When Do We Eatr” immediately recalls last December’s “The Family Stone” in the way it tries to thread intimate, temperamental family dynamic with melodrama and laughs over a holiday setting. “Eat” doesn’t have nearly the same budget as “Stone,” so the script stays seated in two locations with a massive amount of dialog for a majority of the running time, and the picture never gets too heavy. Where “Eat” succeeds is found in its specificity as it tries to conjure up a distinctly Jewish experience for the viewer. The effect can be dizzying.

Writers Nina Davidovich and Salvador Litvak (who also directs) strive to immerse the viewer in the Passover experience through food and family, including a fractured walkthrough of the important rituals that help a gentile like myself get a better grasp on the events of the evening, and the history of the holiday. For audiences in the know, “Eat” soaks up the passions, disagreements, and love the Seder inspires, with the writers capturing the utter chaos of a full dinner table and the resentment that can accompany an estranged family reunion.

But is “Eat” funnyr Not really. The charm of the film comes from the performances, and they do the best they possibly can with the sitcom-level screenwriting. Litvak really lets his cast run with the material, and there is a joy in seeing good actors like Michael Lerner and Lesley Ann Warren given material that has some substance to it for once. “Eat” also gives middling talent like Shiri Appleby (as the sex therapist daughter) and Max Greenfield (as the fiercely religious son) an opportunity to reveal some layers their normal acting choices never allow.

The cast is game to go wherever the guilt-n-feast film takes them, and Litvak takes “Eat” into some interesting directions. From the outside, the picture might seem of mild spirit, but “Eat” wants to rock the boat a little by including a standard issue misunderstood lesbian daughter character, some “gray area” incest between cousins, and the film’s central drug theme. If that any of that sounds a little strange for a Passover comedy, it is. Litvak only has a sweaty fingertip hold on the more extreme subplots in “Eat,” and they feel included to stun people into attention, or perhaps to hip up the religious overtones for a younger audience. Thankfully, the cast handles these swerves with grace.

“When Do We Eatr” is a pleasant representation of modern day Judaism on the big screen, if not a terribly successful film. Still, to see some fine actors get a rare chance to excel is worth the time sitting through the script’s more wacky asides.

Rating: B-