The turn-of-the-century characters in “We Are Going to America” take two hours to complete just the first leg of their title journey — from a pogrom-menaced Russian village to the European border. Based on a story by Sholom Aleichem, this look at familiar Jewish historical themes won’t cross many theatrical borders. It’s too shrilly comic in tone, too haphazardly assembled for extensive travel.
Son of a slain choirmaster, 11-year-old Motl provides the p.o.v., one too often literalized by randomly plotted hand-held camerawork.
The story meanders as well. Fleeing persecution, Motl’s mother, older brother , sister-in-law and their intellectual relation (“I’m a free man according to Kant, Hegel and Spinoza!” he shouts after a beating) depart for the New World with nervously high hopes.
After a chaotic train journey, the family is detained in a border town. As authorities dicker with their fate, Motl has a series of enigmatic encounters, including a curiously sexual one with a “shtetl witch.”
There are flashes of clear narrative focus, as when a despairing, orphaned young woman is driven to attempted suicide. But too much of the running time seems adrift amid heavy symbols (birds figure prominently as harbingers of freedom), disjointed episodes and noisy comic business. Performances are broadly etched to a fault. Despite OK period flavor, tech aspects are uneven. Color/sepia-toned processing shifts seem arbitrary, and the frequently yelled dialogue post-syncing is not precise.
Director Efim Gribov obviously wanted to leaven this familiar story with ample humor. But “We Are Going to America” mostly vacillates between the crude and the inchoate.