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When his estranged brother dies suddenly, Jake Lever is confronted with an old Jewish custom. In days past, a man was expected to marry his deceased brother's childless widow, but it is now customary to perform a ceremony releasing the pair from the obligation. During the Halizah ceremony, Jake feels uncomfortable renouncing his brother's memory. Additionally, Leah wishes to escape the confines of her orthodox community and avoid her mother's matchmaking. On the spur of the moment, Leah and Jake decide to enter into a platonic marriage of convenience.Written by
Another "Feel-good" movie! (What's wrong with that?)
"Feel-good" movies are much like the classic pop love songs of the 30's & 40's: they're aspirational---that is, such depth/perfection of love is probably not achievable, but we'd like to believe it is. Hence, why complain about realism and accuracy, as though Hollywood routinely trades in those commodities and "Loving Leah" is an exception. We want to believe it's possible and there is no harm in doing so.
That being said, this is about as well-acted a TV movie as you're likely to see: Harris Yulin as the Rabbi, Susie Essman & Mercedes Ruehl as the stereotypical yet lovable Jewish mamas, Natasha Lyonne as Leah's older sister (her wide-eyed look from the cab at the film's end is classic), Christy Pusz as Jake's girlfriend (the look on her face when she first meets Leah at the party perfectly communicates that she suddenly understands why Jake refused to let her go...), Tonye Patano cute-as-the-dickens in her small role as Emily, and, of course, Adam Kaufman terrific as Jake.
However, Lauren Ambrose IS this movie, appropriate since she plays the title character. Possessed of what my late mother called "natural beauty" (i.e. a haunting combination of outer & inner beauty), those incredible eyes communicate at least as much as her spoken lines. She is that captivating (to men) combination of fire & ice: (Jake: "You're not what I expected...'Ya got sh-punk, Kid'...Bogart"), formidable yet breakable, assertive yet unsure, a budding feminist yet desiring the love of a man. Her facial expressions when Jake first introduces her as "my wife, Leah", when she gives him that "come hither" look as they're silently standing in the doorway, at the very end when he places the ring back on her finger---all are testimonials to her superb acting ability. She is the quintessential Jewish (or Gentile, for that matter) "girl next door".
And, as an aside, the two kissing scenes between Leah & Jake are among the most tender I've ever seen---passionate yet non-sexual (yes, I realize that their first sexual encounter followed the first scene). It's so refreshing to see kissing express love rather that merely lust, where the characters start ripping one another's clothes off. None of that here---what happened in the bedroom is left to one's imagination, just as it used to be when Hollywood had a measure of restraint.
And Jeff Beal's musical score (complete with klezmer clarinet at times) adds a great deal to many scenes, even though for my tastes it is just a tad too much reminiscent of Schindler's List...
In short, feel-good movies are feel-good movies, but some are memorable and should stay around while others should not only be quickly forgotten but never should have been made in the first place. This one belongs firmly if the former category...
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