Holy Rollers Directed by: Kevin Asch
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Ari Graynor, Danny A. Abeckaser, Jason Fuchs, Mark Avanir, Q-Tip
First Independent Pictures
Release Date: May 21, 2010 (limited)
The most important thing is this: relax, mind your business, and act Jewish.
When it comes to things that don’t mix very well, what are the first things that come to mind? Water and oil; wool caps and Cancun; peanut butter and onion sandwiches, perhaps? How about Hasidic Jews and drug smuggling? I would think that has to be one of the crazier mixes one could think of, no? Well, in 1998, it was a mix that happened quite often, and one such story is told in First Independent Pictures’ Holy Rollers.
The movie tells the true story of Sam Gold (Jesse Eisenberg), a Hasidic Jew in late ’90s Brooklyn, New York who is in the midst of studying to become a Rabbi and entering into an arranged marriage to a girl who wants eight children. Sam works for his father in their fabric store, but it’s very clear that he has a strong sense of business for such a young age. When his wife-to-be decides not to marry him, Sam wonders where he and his life have led him wrong. One day his neighbor and fellow-Jew Yosef Zimmerman (Justin Bartha) offers him a job opportunity that’s too good to pass up: deliver some medicine here and there, and bring in about $1,500 per job.
Eventually Sam discovers that this “medicine” is in fact Ecstasy pills, and that his boss Jackie (Danny A Abeckaser — who originally saw the news story, inspiring him to finance the script) uses Jews as his drug mules because they’re rarely looked at in any way by any type of authority figures. At first he is completely against this life, but with such significant income, the fact that his keen eye for business has impressed his bosses, and an undeniable attraction to Jackie’s girlfriend, Rachel (Ari Graynor), Sam decides to keep going and see where it takes him. As he becomes entangled in this web of drug smuggling and experimentation, he finds himself losing control, and his family sees right through it, leading to Sam’s struggle to reclaim his own world.
Holy Rollers won’t be for everyone — it is slow at times, and may drag to some — but overall, it’s a solid film. Because it’s such a crazy scenario, and one that has actually occurred nevertheless, makes it truly fascinating to watch. These kids, who have known nothing but good, innocent, faithful lives stepping into such a dangerous and chaotic world is truly what movies are made for — it just so happens that this time it was born from real life and not someone’s constantly-churning brain.
Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast in the film. The star of Zombieland and Adventureland was born for these roles. His shy, withdrawn nature is one-in-the-same with his Sam character, and his ability to stand firm and express himself when under duress is utilized with precision.
The rest of the cast is wonderful too. Bartha as a Jew with a foul mouth who has completely fallen from grace is superb, and Graynor does a fantastic job as the girlfriend of the ringleader, searching and desperate for a way out of this mad, mad life she leads. Sam’s father (played by Mark Avanir) is also exceptional as a good man, angered and saddened by the choices of his beloved son.
The only semi-negative thing that I could really pinpoint is the ending. It’s not a bad ending at all, it just did a fine job in sneaking up on me, and that abrupt halt is always tough to swallow when it comes to a movie. Even so, when dealing with true events, there’s only so many options you have in wrapping things up. I will stress that this in no way affected the film for me, but as always, it is worth mention.
Anyone who enjoys a good movie based on a true story is sure to enjoy Holy Rollers. As with many independent films, it’s a great escape from the weekly offerings of the Hollywood hills. It can be dark and gloomy at times, but it can also be incredibly compelling and even quite humorous at times.