Tollbooth cute but trite
Poor Sarabeth (Marla Sokoloff, “The Practice,” Dude, Where’s My Car?) is only trying to find her place in the world. Having just finished art school, she’s got the whole world available to her, but she doesn’t want to compromise her values for the safety of her parents’ home.
The Tollbooth tells Sarabeth’s story as moves across the river from Brooklyn to Manhattan to live in her sister’s closet, spending as much time as she can on her painting while working a crappy waitressing job. Her conflicts seem true to life: reconciling herself to the powerful draw of her neurotic family, the snooty gallery owners who continually reject her work, and a boyfriend who has moved to Pennsylvania—the tollbooth on the Interstate that acts as a separation between his new suburban life and her choice to make it in the big city, which inspired the film’s title.
Sarabeth’s artwork, which she creates onscreen throughout the film, expands her character beyond the self-righteous feminist in a man’s world, though watching her growth through the maturation of her art comes off as a bit heavyhanded.
The rest of the characters, however, feel one-dimensional and in many cases annoying. Her stereotypical Jewish father (Ronald Guttman), complete with accent, spouts Talmud and confuses Spinoza for Kafka. Her mother (the normally brilliant Tovah Feldshuh) is loud, rigid, and the archetypal backbone of the family. They are the caricatures we see in every mainstream film about Jews; perhaps that’s what Brooklyn Jewish parents are like, but I certainly could not relate to them as any moms or dads I knew growing up.
When one of Sarabeth’s sisters declares she’s a lesbian at the same time her other sister announces she’s pregnant by her bumbling nincompoop of a husband, I started to wonder if The Tollbooth would slide into the realm of a bad sitcom. It nearly does. At the end, everything ties up neatly, though not in the way we might expect—and yes, the tollbooth plays a part.
The Tollbooth, a part of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival, will play at 8:30 p.m. on Wed., March 16 at the Broadway Performance Hall.
Watermarks an inspiration and an eye-opener
In the early 20th century, as a response to Austria’s Aryan Paragraph which banned Jews from playing in sports clubs, Hakoah was formed. The greatest triumph of this group of Jewish athletes came in the 1930s with its women’s swim team, which dominated many of Austria’s national competitions. When the Nazis shut down the club in 1938, the swimmers were able to flee. Sixty-five years later, Israeli director Yaron Zilberman brought seven of these women, now in their 80s and spread around the world, back to Austria for a reunion to swim in their old pool one more time.
Zilberman’s Watermarks does a brilliant job of having the women tell their stories, from the crushes they had on the boys to the emotional breakup of their close-knit group so that they might all survive. Though these women later had families and careers, the swimming pool was never too far from their hearts.
One of the women, Judith Deutsch, was Austria’s greatest swimmers. When she refused to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, she was stripped of her titles and even the record of her participation was erased. It was not until recently that her records were restored.
Zilberman follows the women through their trip preparations, their arrival in Vienna and subsequent reunion—including an uncomfortable moment with a singer in a dinner club—and culminating with the women taking their lanes and elegantly gliding over the water.
Beyond a simple tale of these women who reunited after so many years apart, Watermarks is a welcome reminder that many of the Jews of pre-Holocaust Europe were strong, proud, and loyal to their country. It will play at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival on Sun., March 20 at 11:30 a.m. at the Broadway Performance Hall.