Simchas and Sorrows (2022) – Review

Simchas and Sorrows is available on all VOD platforms.

By Zachary Greenberg

With the major Jewish holiday season rolling up with the festivals of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot, it is fitting that the new indie romantic dramedy movie about a catholic woman converting to Judaism, Simchas and Sorrows, was released. While the movie starring and directed by Genevieve Adams tells the tale of Agnes Wilde’s (played by Adams) becoming Jewish, it encompasses a lot more than just finding a “true” religion, rather it accentuates finding balance in one’s life and accepting oneself and loved ones for who they truly are.

Simcha, as mentioned in the film’s title, is the Hebrew word for “joy”. The film starts out with Simchas occurring in Agnes and her boyfriend Levi Schneider’s (Thomas McDonnell) lives. First, Levi surprises Agnes by proposing to her. Then, Agnes one-ups him by revealing that she is pregnant. All seems good in the world until Levi tells Agnes that he signed them up for a Journey Through Judaism course taught by Rabbi Cohen (Hari Nef). Agnes, having grown up a devout Catholic is taken aback by the news, but after some discussion, reluctantly agrees to take the class.

The happy times relatively continue through the first half of the film with scenes of baby planning, learning about Judaism, and Agnes spending time with her grandfather Nate (John Cullum). Through Rabbi Cohen’s guidance and inspirational speeches, Agnes even begins to enjoy becoming Jewish. At one point, she confides to her future sister-in-law Glaucia (Annelise Cepero) that she wants to do the full ritual conversion, including dunking in the mikvah (purifying bath) water completely nude. However, the second half turns to the other part of the title, sorrows, as several unfortunate circumstances occur to Agnes throwing her life, and commitment to Judaism, off the rails.

I enjoyed a lot of aspects of the movie. For starters, the dialogue was extremely well written. All of the conversations were serious with added humor at the right moments. My favorite scene was during a serum by Rabbi Cohen about combatting antisemitism and never forgetting previous racism towards Jews. It was a very powerful and relatable speech for me as an Orthodox Jew. The speech was so good that in the movie, Agnes actually felt compelled to stand up and clap for Rabbi Cohen. Rabbi Cohen had a hysterical response saying, “I wasn’t done, but you’re welcome.” Rabbi Cohen delivered numerous moving talks, all of which are absolute gold and must-watch content.

There was one comedic scene where Agnes took over a Zumba class for women (and one gay man who was ironically there) and let loose her inner motivational coach by speaking about women empowerment and letting loose while doing random dance moves. The gay man present was having so much fun that he asked if Agnes was on schedule to return next week. The whole scene was very well done and I was cracking up the whole time.

However, the film did have its flaws. The pacing of the movie is a bit slow at times and there were a lot of standstill conversations without much action or movement. I also didn’t like how too many characters got screentime to relay important speeches to Agnes when she was a bit lost and in the doldrums. Agnes had serious talks with Nate, film producer Everett James (Luke Forbes), Maude Shapiro (Julie Halston), Glaucia, Rabbi Cohen, and Frankie (Lucy Morris). It was hard to keep track of who they all were and why they were significant enough parts of Agnes’s life to be there for her in her time of need. I think the movie should have focused on maybe one or two such figures and allowed Agnes to develop more on her own through self-reflection.

Also, as an Orthodox Jew, I was offended by one scene where a Hassidic woman trips onto garbage. Quickly, Agnes and Levi rush over to help the woman who instead of accepting their help, lashes out at them in disgust due to their being unorthodox Jews. Levi preceded to call all Hassidic Jews (Hassids) “an extremist cult” and “the more irrational the better.” I found it a bit hypocritical that the film which preached not being prejudiced would jump to such a conclusion about religious Jews. Having grown up and worked with Hassids, I am confident that the vast majority of Hassids would have politely thanked them for their aid and said that they don’t need any assistance in order to not break shomer negiah – a religious restriction of physical contact with a member of the opposite sex.

Still, despite the film’s faults, its highs certainly overshadowed its lows. The soundtrack was phenomenal with each song setting the tone nicely for its scenes. Also, the lighting was amazing showcasing the beauty and grandeur of New York City in each of the different seasons. I especially loved Glaucia and Abe Schneider’s (Billy Calder) apartment overlooking New York’s skyline.

I enjoyed the movie a lot and learned much about different religions and cultures. If you have not seen it, I highly recommend giving it a watch as it is a well-done and unique film. Simchas and Sorrows premiered on September 16th at an exclusive screening at Laemmle Noho Theatre in California. It is now available to stream everywhere on YouTube, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video for $3.99.

I give Simchas and Sorrows a C+.

Film Review: Simchas and Sorrows –Detroit Jewish News

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