On Hasids and Drugs: "Holy Rollers" at the Lagoon Gets Mixed Reviews

This is a guest post by Emily Cutts.
On its face, the movie sounds extremely intriguing.
Inspired by a true story, Holy Rollers is a film (currently showing at the Lagoon Theater in Uptown) about Hasidic drug mules smuggling ecstasy from Europe to the United States. Holy Rollers stars Jesse Eisenberg as Sam Gold, a young Hasid studying to be a Rabbi who becomes involved in the smuggling. It is being referred to as the Jewish Maria Full of Grace (remember the film festival award-winning Columbian drug mule movie?).
But the film has received mixed reviews.
The New York Press gave it a great review:

“A rabbi cautions Sammy: “Be careful, the imagination is very dangerous.” That warning evokes the hilarious frustrations of the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man—which may turn out to be their finest film because, like Holy Rollers, it explored essential aspects of personal and social identity. The depth of Sammy’s troubles (supposedly based on a real 1999 FBI case) reflect genuine existential dilemma.
Director Kevin Asch and writer Antonio Macia keep the story anecdotal but the ethnic details are so complex, intense and authentic, their meanings expand. Excited about his globetrotting escapades, Sammy enthuses to his jaded partners: “Amsterdam used to be called New Jerusalem and New York used to be called New Amsterdam!” His zeal is countered with a ruthless declaration of power and shame from Sammy’s religious teaching that rocks his naiveté.”

The New York Times, not so much:

“Mr. Asch, who makes his feature debut with this inspired-by-real-events story, goes for gritty New York realism, filming on location in Williamsburg and Crown Heights, Brooklyn, at night or in dingy daylight. As Sam’s new occupation becomes impossible to hide, Mr. Asch is careful not to make the scenes of family strife and community disapproval too heavy-handed. Mr. Eisenberg and particularly Mr. Bartha give appropriately twitchy, live-wire performances, and the film tells its basically bleak story lucidly and with touches of dark humor.
The stakes don’t feel very high, though, perhaps because we’ve seen most of this before, in films from “Mean Streets” to “Maria Full of Grace.” It’s the same story, even with tefillin and felt hats.”

While you don’t have to be Jewish to understand (or like) the film it will probably to be easier to get the full grasp if you are Jewish. According to one review, the film uses Hebrew words and phrases throughout that aren’t explained. Watch the trailer here, and then head over to the Lagoon – if you’re game – to make your own opinion.


(Photo credit: Empire Movies)