Boston Globe: Hallmark TV Soap Opera "Loving Leah" with Lauren Ambrose, Mercedes Ruehl, Susie Essman is "charmless bunk" with an odd Jewish theme

Jewish soap opera alert! [HT MENAHEM MENDL] - [Update: after the first few minutes - we like it.]
'Loving Leah' is hard to do
By Matthew Gilbert, Globe Staff
'And Mercedes Ruehl." The words strike fear in my heart, especially when they appear in the opening credits of a CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. As a rule, Ruehl doesn't merely dominate her screen time; she wrestles it into submission, word by word, glare by glare.

Couple that with the fact that the cast of "Loving Leah," tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Channel 4, also features Susie Essman and you've got a knockout punch. Essman is the Blagojevich-tongued comedian who puts Larry David in his place on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and her delivery can be the verbal equivalent of a machine gun. By mid-movie, when Ricki Lake shows up as a reform rabbi, "Loving Leah" is officially one of the more bizarre concoctions to emerge from the Hallmark factory.

But casting is only the start of what's odd about "Loving Leah," which is adapted by P'nenah Goldstein from her own play.

"Loving Leah" is primarily a cute love story between a mousy Hasidic woman in Brooklyn, Leah (Lauren Ambrose), and her urbane cardiologist brother-in-law in Washington, D.C., Jake (Adam Kaufman). That's right, brother-in-law. Leah's rabbi husband dies, and an obscure Jewish law requires her to marry his brother if she has not yet had children.

But Leah and Jake are so different! This is crazy! But it might just work! The movie strains and struggles to get Leah and Jake living platonically in the same Georgetown apartment, so they can follow the conventions of the sham-marriage comedy to the nth degree. While Leah takes classes to prepare for the SATs, so she can go to college and come into her own, Jake halfheartedly continues a love affair with a fellow doctor (Christy Pusz). Leah grows more physically beautiful by the day, especially after she takes off her wig and lets her long red hair flow, and Jake becomes less narcissistic as he sees the beauty of her soul.

Maybe the hokey setup would have been easier to swallow in a quirky independent film, one with a more textured backdrop and knowing tone like "Crossing Delancey." But in a squeaky clean Hallmark movie, the plot is just charmless bunk. Ruehl is out to lunch as Jake's mother, who attends her other son's funeral with nary a tear. Essman has the potential to be convincing, but she is miscast as Ambrose's mother. And Kaufman never gives more than a sitcom-deep performance, which makes Jake's spiritual growth very hard to detect. You have to take it on faith that he's maturing, even while his eyelashes remain so much prettier than Leah's.

I want to say I loved Ambrose, since she was such an essential and appealing part of "Six Feet Under." But as a subservient homemaker trying to get out from under the thumb of her mama, she's all wrong. Once Leah has broken into blossom, Ambrose makes sense. But until then, it's hard to buy her as an oppressed old-world wife lacking in selfhood and modernity, sneaking out to see romantic movies. Nope, can't say I was loving "Leah," or even liking it much.


Anonymous said...

I was an extra, for a kiddush scene. Let's see if I turn out to be visible in the film.

Anonymous said...

This movie is insulting to religious (frum)
women everywhere.Leah is not typical of Chassidic women. She is passive, flimsy in her ties to a Torah lifestyle, and ignorant. I went to yeshiva.
I know that the movie portrays a false depiction of the community. This movie is a travesty. It is an insult.

Anonymous said...

I tuned in as it is unusual to see a love story with two Jewish people.

There were a lot of things that bothered me about this story, and here are a couple.

She keeps Kosher yet they eat at a Chinese restaurant. This would have made sense if they had mentioned this was a Kosher Chinese restaurant.

They go to a black tie event and she carefully considers wearing her wig, but she has a thin strap gown with a slit up her leg and she is wearing lipstick, something she had not done in other scenes.

His mom shows little sign of grief at all over the loss of her son, and she shows up for the funeral in an outfit anyone with common sense would know is not appropriate.

Unknown said...

I loved the movie. I love it so much that i will be buying DVD as soon as it comes out. I love clean and simple plots. I don't find it offensive at all. It was entertaining for the entire family to watch. KUDOS. I love the love shared between Ambrose and Kaufman. I hope to see them in your future films.

Anonymous said...

The chinese restaurant was kosher. You can see a very boro park looking guy (black suit, white shirt, no tie, beard, kippa) eating at a table behind them.

Paul Franklin Stregevsky said...

My guess is that restaurant was, or is modeled after, Harmony Cafe, a vegan Chinese restaurant in Georgetown. As a kosher vegetarian who lives and works in greater Washington, I can assure you that it's not unusual to see frumm business people dining in a restaurant that's vegan but not certified kosher.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese restaurant was kosher... It was named "shlomo's"

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie so much.. I thought it portrayed such a positive picture of the jewish community. Ambrose's character was such an endearing portrait of a decent, modest, moral jewish woman...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification on the Chinese restaurant. I did not see the name, but think they could have thrown in a line about a kosher place.

But, nu, what about her sexy outfit for the event? What about his mom's seeming lack of grief for her dead son? What about her way out there outfit for her son's funeral?

Anonymous said...

Well, the outfit for the event in my opinion was a sad portrayal of how a girl feeling out of place will try to assimilate to be accepted. She still was attending shul and was still observant. To me that was more important than the outfit, although I was disappointed when I saw the outfit.

The mom's lack of grief ? Hmmm, maybe it was the way she grieved.. maybe she was in shock, maybe she was estranged because the son thought his mother and brother were sinful for the path their lives were taking. Who knows...

The mother's outfit for the funeral was highly inappropriate and one could see how uncomfortable she was when she was sitting shive because she was trying to pull her skirt over her knees as she was sitting.

Still overall I did love this movie and was very happy to see the jewish community in Brooklyn portrayed in such a positive manner. So often, sadly, the jewish community is portayed as standoffish and intolerant, not at all how the jewish community really is

Anonymous said...