Film Openings

Week of April 20, 2006

 American Dreamz. (PG-13) A suicide bomber entertains the television public by prancing through "The Impossible Dream." Although made with only the barest modicum of style and taste, Paul Weitz's conflation of the Bush White House and American Idol can't quite manage to be crass as its imagined audience. The movie might have been funnier — but as less social satire than social realism, it isn't boring. (J. Hoberman) KEN, MR, OF, PF, RON, STCH

Friends With Money. (R) A smart, patient, and ruefully funny film about four women navigating the channels of midlife, Friends With Money brings us into a real world populated with unaugmented women, where makeupless people do and say recognizably human things — albeit in expensive cars in Los Angeles. Writer-director Nicole Holofcener coaxes wry performances from Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, and Jennifer Aniston in the lead roles, yet her film is a hard one to feel close to. Friends With Money's series of vignettes captures the protagonists in distinct moments, dramatizing their feelings and exposing their failings even as they try to hide them. But it never digs too deeply into any single person's world, and so it doesn't build toward much. There is a breakthrough at the end, but its importance is muted by the listlessness of the character who experiences it. (Melissa Levine) PF

Lonesome Jim. (R) Reviewed in this issue. (Melissa Levine) TV

When Do We Eat?. (R) Behold the invention of Seder dinner theater in Salvador Litvak's strenuous Passover farce, which positions a family of bickering one-dimensional types around the table for all-you-can-choke-down portions of love, laughs, and life lessons. Overbearing patriarch Ira (Michael Lerner) and long-suffering wife Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren) open their homes to their prickly, estranged brood for the holiday, gathering together five grown children, a niece, a one-eyed Israeli gardener (Mark Ivanir), and Ira's Holocaust-survivor dad (Jack Klugman), whose psychic baggage is subtly portrayed as actual luggage. The fun begins when pothead wiseguy Zeke (Ben Feldman) spikes Dad's Maalox with Ecstasy — thus triggering a broadly staged aftermath of cheapo psychedelia, sitcom slapstick, and saccharine psychodrama. It's tough to say which provides the bigger serving of bitter herbs, the comedy or the pathos, but the cast gamely chows down — especially old-pro Klugman, Cynda Williams as a bemused lesbian guest, Shiri Appleby as a sex-surrogate daughter, and the stunning Israeli actress Mili Avital as a newly devout son's comely cousin. Still, keep the Tums handy. (Jim Ridley) PF

 
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