Sundance 2010: HOLY ROLLERS Review

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Sundance 2010: HOLY ROLLERS Review
[Our thanks to Ryland Aldrich for the following review.]

Kevin Asch's feature debut starts out as an enjoyable look inside a Hassidic family and quickly turns into a rollicking tour through an international drug smuggling ring.  Jesse Eisenberg does well as the young man seduced by the outside world - but it is Justin Bartha who really shines as the seducer.  With a good concept and both indie and mainstream appeal, this could be one of this year's Sundance films to gain some outside traction.

Sam Gold (Eisenberg) is a young man coming of age in a devout Hassidic family in Brooklyn.  He dreams of making the handsome Zeldy his bride, but his less than stellar rabbinical studies and promise of a life working in his father's garment store prove insufficient for Zeldy's parents and the marriage is denied. Tempted by his neighbor Yosef's (Bartha) flashy goods, Sam agrees to help him transport "medicine" from Amsterdam. The medicine is actually ecstasy and although he is horrified at first, he relishes in the praise heaped on him by drug boss Jackie (producer Danny Abeckaser) and continues smuggling against his better judgment.  Sam becomes seduced by the lifestyle and (quite literally) by Jackie's girlfriend Rachel (Ari Graynor) and soon finds himself in over his head negotiating with drug lords and recruiting other Hassidic mules.

The film gets started on a real strong note with its look inside the closed orthodox community - scenes far more entertaining than the recent A Serious Man. Eisenberg shines during physically comic moments like sneaking out the garbage on the Sabbath.  But the real surprise is Justin Bartha (Doug from The Hangover) who plays Sam's neighbor - a devout who has already become disillusioned with his strict religion. Their relationship makes up the strongest thread in the film as Sam's role in the operation expands and Yosef's diminishes.

Holy Rollers has some very poignant and some quite fun scenes - sprinting across the Brooklyn Bridge on ecstasy is both.  But it does suffer from a few pacing problems with the very short conclusion just kind of slapped on to the end.  Regardless, the good far outweighs the poor.  This film should prove to be a great step forward for both Asch and Bartha and another indie darling for Eisenberg. 

[Ryland Aldrich is a screenwriter and freelance writer based in Los Angeles.  He blogs at enderzero.net]
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