One of the crowd-pleasing world-premiere films showcased at this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival is The Pickle Recipe, an ethnic comedy that benefits from a better-than-average cast and an irresistibly warm spirit. Critics will rightly complain about the predictable storytelling, but if the film is cleverly marketed to older audiences, Jewish audiences in particular, it could enjoy a modest niche success.
Joey (Jon Dore) is a deejay and emcee on the wedding and bar mitzvah circuit in Detroit. But when he loses his sound equipment in a freak accident in the movie’s opening scene, he is forced to enter into some shady enterprises to get back on his feet. He has a suspicious ex-wife and a loving but easily disappointed daughter, and if he wants to retain their approval, he has to resort to desperate measures. His uncle Morty (Oscar nominee David Paymer), the black sheep of the family, offers the money that Joey needs if Joey can get his hands on grandmother Rose’s dill pickle recipe, which is chiefly responsible for the success of the deli she started with her late husband. Rose (vigorously played by Sex and the City veteran Lynn Cohen) guards the recipe fiercely, but she has a soft spot for Joey, so the game is afoot.
Most of the plot twists can be spotted a mile away. When Joey tries to soften Rose by bringing a “rabbi” to dinner, and the visitor’s pants are drenched, it isn’t hard to guess how Rose will learn that the interloper is neither a rabbi nor Jewish. Screenwriters Sheldon Cohn and Gary Wolfson, former advertising executives in Detroit, have clearly studied screenwriting manuals without ever finding the spark of originality that distinguishes witty comedy from formula fare.
Luckily, Michael Manasseri’s direction is energetic, and the cast goes through their paces nimbly. Cohen may be playing a stereotypical tough Jewish grandmother, but she approaches the role with such brio and appealing understatement that she wins us over. Paymer is another experienced pro, though he actually gives one of the more overstated performances in the film. And Eric Edelstein as the fake rabbi has some uproarious moments. But the film really works because of the likable performance by Dore, who exudes an unassuming masculine charisma.
Ethnic comedies have their limitations, and a sharper script would have helped this one to stand out from the pack. Nevertheless, audiences in a forgiving mood will enjoy the byplay among an appealing bunch of desperate characters.
Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Production: Storyboard Entertainment
Cast: Jon Dore, Lynn Cohen, David Paymer, Eric Edelstein, Miriam Lee, Taylor Groothuis, Ashley Noel Ketko
Director: Michael Manasseri
Screenwriters: Sheldon Cohn, Gary Wolfson
Producers: Jason Potash, Paul Finkel, Sheldon Cohn, Gary Wolfson, Michael Manasseri
Executive producer: Eddie Rubin
Director of photography: Geoff George
Production designer: Paulette Georges
Costume designer: Aline Hong
Editor: Stewart Shevin
Music: Michelino Bisceglia
Not rated, 98 minutes