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A Jewish man who owns a Brooklyn deli asks his domineering uncle for a loan so he can buy his dream restaurant in Manhattan, but the uncle demands that he give up his Gentile girlfriend even though she's one of the few sources of stability in his somewhat chaotic life. Written by
Determined Copy Editor
So OK this is not a great film, but there are several excellent moments here, and at the end you feel you have watched something worthwhile.
Elliott Gould stars as a luncheonette owner making a living in Brooklyn. He has a doting mother (Shelley Winters), a domineering uncle (Sid Caesar), and a non-Jewish girl friend (Margaux Hemingway). He's also overweight, diabetic, and Jewish.
While this seems a lot like Woody Allen territory and their are plenty of comic moments, there's a dark underside of "otherness" here that gives depth to this film, a serious took at perhaps passing as a White American but being always aware of otherness.
Of course all of Gould's extended family here are Jewish stereotypes: the language, the gestures, the work ethic, etc. Gould straddles the fence, White but Jewish, Brooklyn but with an eye toward Manhattan. In the Orthodox wedding scene, Gould wears a baseball cap over his yarmulke. His best friend (Burt Young) is Italian. His employee (Robert Gossett) is Black.
There are two surprising and extraordinary scenes in this film, both quite memorable. One has Gould wandering New York in the wee hours and making a call from a phone booth when he is approached by a speechless derelict gesturing for smokes. He tries to wave him off but eventually hands the old man cigarettes after the old man has urinated on him, a slight twist to doing a good need and getting urinated on for doing it.
The other is the engagement party scene where Caesar pontificates about the upcoming marriage of Gould to his cousin (Carol Kane) unaware that Gould has no such intentions. Caesar thinks the marriage will take place because of a loan he's giving Gould to buy a Manhattan restaurant. He's also gloating for keeping Gould in the fold, i.e., marrying a Jewish girl.
But Gould rebels, stands up for his love for Hemingway, and hands back the check. Caesar tries to bully him and slaps him in front of the astonished guests. Gould does the unthinkable. He literally strikes back, reducing Caesar to a tearful rage that ends in a bear hug of anger, fist pounding, and paternal love. Extraordinary. It's all one scene, no cuts, no editing.
Co-stars include Francine Beers as Ruth, Lynnie Greene as Cynthia, Jerry Lazarus as Caesar's weird son, Zvee Scooler as Rebbe, and Lou David as the loan shark.
Not for all tastes, but this is a surprising film and worth seeking out.
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