Oct 28, 2008

I messed with the Zohan

I had not seen this movie, because like Borat, I wasn't sure I wanted to. I saw it yesterday on a Blueray dvd (it's freezing in DF and I had no intention of going anywhere) and I'm glad I did. It was about high time that someone skewered that ridiculous area of the world known as the Middle East. The place is absurd and despite its insistence in wallowing in blood and revenge, it is ripe for comedy. So leave it to the trio of Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel and Judd Apatow to make a silly, very funny comedy about an Israeli super agent (Adam Sandler, fabulous) who is tired of all the violence and all he wants to do is be a hair stylist. Throughout the entire film I wondered how this movie was received in Israel. I haven't been back to the Land of Milk and Honey since 1988, and I'm pretty sure that the source of endless merriment at the expense of the Israelis must come from the writers' experience of Israel circa the 80's. I believe the advent of the internet has finally allowed Israelis to connect with Planet Earth. When I was there, the world seemed light years away.
The Israelis the movie lovingly skewers (at least 10 years behind the fashion of the times, obsessed with disco, unwilling to wear closed shoes or long pants, and deeply tacky) are exactly like they were when I was there.  The movie gets the arrogance, the chutzpah and the warmth totally right. The film reminded me that I spent three years in Israel either mostly aggravated or laughing my head off at the national idiosyncracies with my non-Israeli friends. 
The movie is extremely raunchy (Israeli men are sex machines, don't you know), but the fun part is in the concept. The concept of a Jewish superman, a fighting sex maniac, a terrorist and lady killer, is great. The gross exaggeration of the Zohan character is not far from the ideal of the founding fathers of the Jewish State for the post-pogrom-ghetto-Holocaust Jew: not a helpless wimp by any stretch of the imagination. 
This is a very Jewish movie with very Jewish humor. Most of it is silly, but hilarious. Hummus is an all-purpose super food. The Zohan brushes his teeth with hummus and eats hummus chocolates, while his dad (Larry David's dad in Curb your Enthusiasm), uses hummus to sweeten his coffee. There is a marvelous bit about the Israelis who run electronics stores in NY (one store is called Going Out of Business and the other one, Everything Must Go).  The writers make up dirty words in Hebrew that sound like someone with lots of phlegm and there is a yellow soft drink called Fizzy Bubbelech, loved by Jews and Arabs alike.  The humor owes a lot to the humor of Mel Brooks, silly, light, Jewish, funny.  I laughed plenty. 
The politics are in the right place and the movie is not mean-spirited. The Middle East, with its endless cycle of hate and revenge, needs fixing, while in the same block in NY Jews and Arabs coexist without a scratch. The movie's theory, which I adhere to, is that the Israelis and their neighbors are more similar than not. Equally macho, equally nuts and equally tacky, at the very least. 
The Zohan, pretending his thick guttural accent is Australian-Tibetan, falls in love with a Palestinian girl (while shtupping everything that moves) and in the end Israelis and Arabs coexist happily ever after -- in New York. 
 I can hear the humorless whining about the Jewish cabal in Hollywood and the victims and the oppressors.  And precisely because of that, I salute even more the chutzpah of the writers to make a movie like this.  
I realize that I watch many more Hollywood comedies than I watch any other kinds of films that come from that craven town. For the most part they are far more interesting than the rest of the Hollywood product and they tend to be dismissed and underrated because they are funny, and nobody takes them seriously but in many instances they are the better, smarter American films today. 

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