Ecstasy-smuggling Orthodox drug drama does exactly what it says on the tin.
It’s not often that you see a drug dealer dressed as Fantastic Mr Fox. Fantastic Mr Fox, that is, as reimagined by Wes Anderson. But Sam Gold, the semi-anti-hero of Holy Rollers manages just that; to buy and sell drugs in a mustard brown corduroy suit while rocking white Nikes.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Holy Rollers is an independent film written by Antonio Macia, directed by Kevin Asch, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Bartha (aka Doug from The Hangover). It's based (loosely – Eisenberg’s character is an amalgamation of several different people) on the true story of a Hassidic drug-dealing cell based in New Jersey, which imported ecstasy from the Netherlands to New York during the 1990s.
Now, if this sounds like the most hipster idea for a movie you’ve ever heard – drugs plus Orthodox religion plus sex plus New York – then don’t worry; you don’t have to live in a converted warehouse to ‘get’ it. The most engaging parts of the film, in fact, are the relationships between Gold (Eisenberg) his fabric-selling father (played by Mark Ivanir) and his straight-laced neighbour Leon Zimmerman (Jason Fuchs).
In the hierarchical Hassidic community, there is genuine affection between father and son, neighbourly ambition between Sam and Leon, and childlike rebellion in the way the former watches porn through the latter’s window.
The catalyst for the film’s real action, however, comes in the chain-smoking, cussing, dirty-shirted form of Leon’s tearaway older brother Yosef (Bartha). It is Yosef who hoodwinks Sam and Leon into smuggling their first stash of ecstasy into America. It is Yosef who introduces Sam to the Israeli dealer, Jackie, and his pouty blonde girlfriend Rachel.
It is Yosef who slowly introduces his naïve young neighbour to a Jewish underworld where groups of Orthodox twenty-somethings become a front for one of the slickest, if unlikeliest, drug routes in the western world.
If this all sounds rather like the film version of your school’s anti-drug lessons – Reefer Madness for the MTV generation – then perhaps we’re doing it a disservice. Sam’s drug trafficking certainly does bring him money, fun and experience. He goes to clubs, he makes friends, he breaks away from his family’s expectations and he gets that sweet corduroy suit you’ve already heard about. Not to mention the white Nikes.
As is so often the case with films ‘based on real events’, however, the plot doesn’t go any further than the three-line synopsis this implies. Holy Rollers is a film about the loss of innocence. Or perhaps – loss suggesting something valued and taken away – this is more accurately a film about a revolution against innocence and the vacuum it leaves behind.
The performances are good, some of the dialogue is clever and snappy, the depictions of being high are bad (but then they always are) and the story is fairly compelling. It just doesn’t really go beyond ‘fairly’.
Mark Zuckerberg smuggled ecstacy in his ringlets? Oy vey!
Ecstasy-smuggling Orthodox drug drama. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
You’ll want to Google the hell out of this ‘true story’.