The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - MINYAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - MINYAN

minyan review
A young man explores his sexuality in the Jewish community of 1980s New York.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Eric Steel

Starring: Samuel H. Levine, Ron Rifkin, Christopher McCann, Brooke Bloom, Alex Hurt, Chris Perfetti

minyan poster

As part of the Ashkenazi Jewish community in 1980s Brooklyn, young David’s (Samuel H. Levine) life is characterised by strict cultural traditions: not only is he expected to take part in religious ceremonies which he is unsure that he believes in, but also, as part of an outsider class (the film suggests), competitive appearance and perceived status is crucially important to social standing. Problem is that David is gay and has barely come to terms with the fact himself, let alone be comfortable enough to admit it to his family of pushy mom and abusive father - the former attempting to marry him off to the daughter of a car salesman, his dad smacking him about as a way of toughening him up. Oy vey!

minyan review

One does tend to romanticise the mid-‘80s era of NY gay culture: the Mineshaft club, Mapplethorpe’s photography, the mythical cool of Greenwich village - all in the city that never sleeps. However, the reality for most young gays at that time was far removed from the underground scene or illicit bohemia of downtown and was perhaps closer to what David experiences in queer documentarian Eric Steel and David Bezmozgis’ (co-writer, of screenplay based on the short story by Daniel Pearle) Minyan. That is, a furtive and solitary existence, exemplified by cold fear and hot shame which eat away at the soul; as a character wistfully remarks, "being alone is a kind of death itself."

Fortunately, David does have his grandfather Josef (Ron Rifkin), who is similarly forsaken by the family due to his age, bemoaning that old people are treated the same as children in their society. Duly, David moves into the Jewish Retirement Apartment Building which Josef shares with other older people. Part of the joy of Minyan is its representation of old people who, to a man, have come too far and, historically, suffered far too much to give in to further bigotry and judgement. As David discovers, within the tenancy there are in fact a couple of widowers who quietly live together as a couple.

minyan review

It’s lovely, and the idea of David self-actualising from the example of these dignified suitors (Christopher McCann and Mark Margolis) is a welcome one. So many coming-out-of-age dramas focus on youthful bravery superseding the adult status quo, and the adolescent thrill of recognising an identity which challenges pat orthodoxy. It’s a shame, then, that we don’t spend more time in the retirement home, as Minyan instead opts to follow David as he makes inroads into his newly accepted homosexuality. Once again, a familiar gaymut is run: stealthy glances across bars, sweaty dancefloors full of men, drunken shags. Amusingly though, Levine wanders through the film with a benign, stupefied look on his face, as if he is the Forrest Gump of archetypal gay experience. It’s incredible, and once you clock this it’s impossible to ignore. Case in point is a hook up with smouldering barman Alex Hurt. Their sex is filmed in that objective, prolonged way in which anal is always portrayed in such films: very po-faced, stern, mechanical (having a complete inability to take anything seriously, let alone shagging, this sort of scene blocking always makes me giggle anyway). After the top barman has come, the camera lingers on David’s face, which has the sort of glazed, satisfied look of someone who has just solved a Rubik’s cube (perhaps part of the problem is that playing a 17 year old, Levine instead looks every year of his mid-20s irl age...).

And then, a few moments after coitus, the hunky barman is berating David for his ignorance regarding the endemic of young men "getting sick" across town. Um, mate, you just had unprotected sex with this twink who is probably still holding in your emission as you’re bollocking him? The spectre of AIDS is another crushing phenomena that David will have to contend with, and Minyan depicts it as such – a vague, but insistent threat to a way of life already under undue pressure. There is, however, no real attempt to challenge the duplicity, and possible culpability, of the likes of the hunky barman. In fact, the bad boy’s main crime in the film is pretending to read a book for clout, a transgression which, when it is revealed to David, is treated like a real ‘scales from the eyes’ moment - get real.

minyan review

And so, at times, aided by its arch clarinet score, Minyan comes across as a reassuring gay fairy-tale of familiar tropes and minor conflicts. However, what is both warming and refreshing in Steel’s film is the comfort, the love and the support which David returns to within his community and religion. It is here where the true heart of Minyan can be found, the religious-positive themes of which are vanishingly rare. In the film’s moving final lines, David’s rabbi explains that he is obligated to take all, "thieves, adulterers, homosexuals," or else the titular quorum could not exist.

Minyan is in UK cinemas and on VOD from January 7th.

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