Holy Rollers Reviewed: Could This Be The First Ever Jewish Drugs Flick?

Two friends, one gangster, one million pills runs the sell for this Jewish drug flick. But they've missed a massive chance to do for Es what Pulp Fiction did for Heroin.
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Holy Rollers, not to be confused with Harold Bishop’s briefly religious rebranding of his cafe in mid-90s episodes of Neighbours, is a foray into the murky world of New York’s pre-millennium drugs market, as seen through the eyes of young, orthodox Jews.

It’s an independent offering written by Antonio Macia and directed by Kevin Asch, neither of who you’ll ever have heard of. However it stars the Hangover’s forgotten man Justin Bartha and the ‘more Michael Cera than Michael Cera’ Jesse Eisenberg, both of who put in the sort of performances that make them stand out like big, curly-haired strawberries in a film that’s little more than a bowl of tiny clichéd peas. Kosher peas though, obviously.

It should be noted that Eisenberg, he of crippling awkwardness when both slaughtering zombies and inventing Facebook, is excellent in this. Caught between his parents ushering him into a career he doesn’t want, being rejected by the girl he likes and stooping to religiously watching porn through his friends window every night, he gradually shifts from an emotionally suppressed teen, to a ripened, ballsy, opportunistic entrepreneur, who’s still, at heart, just an emotionally suppressed teen.

It’s a role that feels almost tailor-made for him, but then, it bloody well should, being, as he was, an awkward emotionally suppressed teen raised in a secular Jewish household in New York City. That’s the equivalent of casting Bono in the Passion of the Christ or Liz Jones lending her face to a gynaecology textbook.

The film itself though is a part coming-of-age, part right-of-passage and part “choose-life-choose-a-job-choose-leisurewear-and-matching-luggage” affair that unfortunately suffers from the usual deficiencies that accompany the “based on true events” label. Mainly that the story it’s trying to tell probably isn’t enough to really fill an hour and a half worth of screen time. As a result it’s padded out by exploring the various intricacies in the relationships between characters which, surprisingly, are just as interesting as all the drugs and parties and whatnot.

Anyway, back to the story. Inevitably, the glamorous life of stashing cowies in their socks and fingering girls in Dutch nightclubs spirals into bartering with international drug barons

Breaking up the heavy theme of the plot, the disintegration of trust between Eisenberg and his family, his erratic ecstasy-fuelled romance with a forbidden fruit and, best of all, Justin Bartha’s gradual, but complete, estrangement from his own sanity spreads a fascinating dramatic pâté over what would have been a slightly dry cracker of a plot. Kosher pâté, obviously.

With that in mind, it’s as much a story of what it’s like to be young and Jewish, as it is a story about what it’s like to be a globe-trotting drug mule. If you think that sounds like it’ll be very interesting in parts, then you’re right, but if you think that sounds like it could be equally as dull, you’re right as well.

Oh, and a special mention must be made of the drug taking scenes. There’s considerably more to being on ecstasy than having dilated pupils and thinking everything feels soft (I read about it once), so for a film that so vividly portrays all its other composite parts, to present the audience with a tired and half-arsed caricature of disco biscuits, and the people who take them, undid a lot of the good work that had gone before it. What Fear and Loathing did for acid, what Pulp Fiction did for heroin and what Training Day did for PCP, Holy Rollers might have had an opportunity to do for ecstasy.

Anyway, back to the story. Inevitably, the glamorous life of stashing cowies in their socks and fingering girls in Dutch nightclubs spirals into bartering with international drug barons, some very ropey love triangles, and committing the cardinal sin of falling asleep in the back of a synagogue. The boys quickly realise they’re starting to get out of their depth, but their personal addictions, be they for a good time or just some good business, keep them wedged somewhere in the many echelons of their new profession. It’s sort of a like Layer Cake in that respect. Kosher cake, obviously.

All in all then, a decent film, if not a great one. Light applause to the writer for keeping the jokes about Jewish stereotypes to an absolute minimum and for not just making up a firefight in a burning building or inserting a bestiality sub-plot simply to spice things up. It’s certainly worth a watch because, despite director Kevin Asch failing to make the most of what he’s got to work with here, he’s brilliantly bailed out by Bartha and Eisenberg, both of whom truly, truly relish these roles.

It’s kosher relish though, obviously.

This article first appeared on KYEO, the North-East's daily arts and culture dispatch. Click here for more information.

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