A sure-fire audience-pleaser, Scott (son of Garry) Marshall’s winning comedy bow could have been titled “My Big Fat Jewish Bar Mitzvah.” Mark Zakarin’s script deftly mocks Hollywood excess while upholding religious tradition, and the cast, from Daryl Sabara (“Spy Kids”) to Daryl Hannah, all appear to be having a ball. Pic, skedded to open May 12th in selected cities, will initially attract Jewish auds, but strong ethnic flavor only enhances the pic’s universal family-friendly warmth. Not for those who like their humor edgy and their life-lessons subtle, the pic’s eclectic comedy ultimately trumps the inevitable schmaltz.
The titular Steins’ shindig is an elaborate “Titanic”-themed bar mitzvah, complete with icebergs, mermaids and a Kate Winslet lookalike. It’s been masterminded by Hollywood agent Arnie Stein (Larry Miller). Not to be outdone, his ex-partner and rival agent Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven, in a role that predates his “Entourage” gig), plans an even more stupendous do, appropriating Dodger Stadium for a baseball-themed bash, oblivious to the stage fright of bar mitzvah boy Benjamin (Sabara).
The dynamic of the film changes with the arrival of Benjamin’s estranged grandfather Irwin (played with scene-stealing Yiddisher gusto by the helmer’s pater, Garry), as a gray-ponytailed free spirit. He’s fresh from a Navajo reservation and accompanied by flaky g.f. Sacred Feather (a mellow Daryl Hannah). Most of the family welcomes him back into the fold, including Rose (Doris Roberts), his understanding ex-wife, abandoned a quarter-century before. Son Adam, however, roils with decades-old resentment at his father’s neglect.
Irwin ropes a rabbi (Richard Benjamin), who’s more concerned with marketing his book than shepherding the flock, into explaining the significance of the Hebrew passage Benjamin must chant. Despite a voice that cracks in all directions, the terrified Benjamin, borrowing bracing advice from Irwin and the recently bar mitzvahed Stein boy, impressively segues into manhood.
The transgenerational gags are not all funny and more than slightly corny, but they’re delivered with such panache and good-natured sweetness, they shamelessly seduce.
One gets the sense helmer Marshall, a minority goy in the Hollywood Borscht Belt community, bends over backward to soften any mordant bite Zakarin’s quasi-autobiographical script once might have possessed. Pic, at times, comes off like a warm, fuzzy, polymorphous party of comedians, where Richard Benjamin rubs elbows with Cheryl Hines and everybody pats the head of the youngest offspring of the Marshall sitcom dynasty to take up the directorial reins of wholesome bigscreen entertainment.
Tech credits are pro all the way.