Review: 'Menashe' Offers a Realistic Showcase Of A Father’s Struggles In An Uncommon Setting

Menashe offers viewers a rare look into the world of an Orthodox Jewish Community located in Brooklyn's Borough Park. The film tells the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig) fighting for custody of his son Rieven (Ruben Nidorski) after his wife Leah passes away. Menashe's Rabbi tells him that Rieven must be raised in a home with a father and mother and that until Menashe remarries, Rieven will be cared for by his uncle. Menashe struggles with the thought of losing his son and languishes the idea of him living in the home of a man who Menashe feels has no respect for him and is entirely too strict with Rieven. However, Menashe does not want to rush into marrying just to satisfy the wishes of the Rabbi, only adding to his predicament.

From the start it is clear that Menashe is different than most other men in the community – he dresses differently, often omitting the traditional jacket and hat. He is also clumsy and constantly running late, in stark contrast to the strict and proper disposition of his peers. Menashe questions the traditions that have put him in this predicament, having to fight to keep his own child. However, Menashe yearns for respect from the community, especially his brother-in-law and Rabbi, and sets out to show that he can provide a healthy home for his son.  

Director Joshua Z. Weinstein drew inspiration for the story from Menashe Lustig himself. Lustig told The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that “the whole movie is a 95% percent true story, we just touched it up a little bit.” Weinstein spent time within Brooklyn’s Orthodox community to get a clearer sense of the world he was entering and to gain the trust of its people. This authenticity is not lost upon the film and throughout the film’s 82 minutes, Weinstein manages to immerse the audience in numerous aspects of Orthodox rituals and culture. We get a glimpse into daily customs as well as special songs and ceremonies of Orthodox Jews that are intertwined within the story.

While Menashe is a unique film that explores a little known cultural subsect and is the first movie filmed almost entirely in Yiddish in 70 years, the heart of the film is a well-known story of a father in a tough situation trying to do the right thing. The moments where Menashe interacts with his son - making goofy faces, taking him for ice cream, and always trying to make him smile – are the fire that keep the film going. These instances help the audience connect with Menashe and his son and truly create a vested interest between the audience and characters. We are taken through the struggles and hardships Menashe encounters as he tries to tiptoe the line between his religion and his internal desires. The audience is able to sympathize with Menashe’s position, seeing him have to weigh the need to have his child home with the importance of religion and community. This dichotomy puts a fresh spin on the story helping to separate it from past films that dive into the ‘single parent trying to raise a child alone’ territory. Menashe opened in New York and Los Angeles on July 28th and will be opening nationwide in the near future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5