[box cover]

A Price Above Rubies

Miramax Home Entertainment

Starring Rene Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston and Glenn Fitzgerald

Written and directed by Boaz Yakin

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

To outsiders, Brooklyn's conservative community of Orthodox Jewry might seem mysterious or exotic. Demure wives quietly defer to their serious, black-clad and heavily bearded husbands — who spend much of their time in silent, nodding prayer.

To Sonia (Renee Zellweger), the only mystery is how she got stuck there, and what can she do about it. She's an individualist enmeshed in a communal society with no regard for personal desire. She has little tolerance for the strict adherence to Hasidic traditions that supercede her mothering instincts for her infant son. And although her husband Mendel (Glenn Fitzgerald) is regarded as great young scholar, he is an inattentive husband with a particularly frustrating sexual hang-up.

Sonia has had a ken for the dramatic since she was a small child — just like her beloved brother Yossi, who died as child trying to prove he could swim. Now she finds herself faced with a similar test of pride and chutzpah. Can she assert her freedom within the closed confines of the Hasidim, or will the fire she claims is burning inside her make her an outcast, alienating her from her son and security?

Writer-director Boaz Yakin, who leapt so powerfully onto the big screen with his excellent 1994 debut Fresh, has crafted a more modest, yet also more ambitious, sophomore effort. Whereas Fresh stood out amongst a mid-90s glut of urban projects-based drugs-and-gangsta thrillers featuring hip young black casts, A Price Above Rubies is just about the only sexy Hasidic kitchen sink drama with a rising star released by a major studio (Miramax/Disney) that I can remember.

At times it appears that Yakin tried to tackle too much in this small story. Although a product of the very type of Jewish community he depicts, Yakin's attempts to integrate Hasidic mysticism into the story come off half-assed, and the tone of the film lurches awkwardly at the beginning from melodramatic to comic before settling into its smooth dramatic groove.

But the detailed world that Yakin finally succeeds in presenting — while very possibly offensive to real Orthodox Jews — is fascinating. It's a world of extremist subjugation, in which men either spend their days praying to God or sinning to catch his attention. The emotional havoc this system wreaks on Sonia, who is expected to comply regardless, is considerable.

Zellweger does a fine job in this demanding role. Even when her pouty habits obscure Sonia's strength and determinism, her performance is thankfully subdued and rarely veers into dreaded melodrama. Fitzgerald, as her steadfastly religious husband, spends most of the film in catatonic prayer, but at the end shows graceful understanding without compromising his integrity. Christopher Eccleston is also excellent as Sonia's unscrupulous brother-in-law.

Also with Julianna Margulies and Allen Payne.

Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. Trailers, keep case.

— Gregory P. Dorr

Get it at Reel.com

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Back to Main Page

© 2000, The DVD Journal