The Shabbos Goy

By Talia Osteen | Comedy
An Orthodox Jew tries to find someone to turn off an adult toy gone rogue.

Launched by “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig, Powderkeg: Fuse is a talent incubator program that highlights emerging female film directors. Omeleto is proud to share its diverse slate of shorts for this year — as part of its inaugural Fuse Directing Program — which is inspired by the vibrant communities of Los Angeles and united by a comedic sensibility that can range from bawdy to caustic to offbeat, but is always emotionally grounded.

Hannah is a devout Orthodox Jew, who observes the tenets and practices of her religion, including abstaining from electronics of almost any kind on the Sabbath.

She’s also a modern woman who lives in Los Angeles, the most modernist of American cities. So when a certain device of hers won’t turn off, she sets out to find someone who can turn it off without violating her religion — a “shabbos goy” outside the faith who can perform certain types of work for Jews who can’t partake on the Sabbath.

Writer/director Talia Osteen’s nimble, quicksilver comedy combines the bawdiness of a certain type of ribald comedy with a richly observed snapshot of how a tradition-rich religion and culture thrives in a modern setting, where diverse groups of people are nestled alongside one another but often don’t deeply interact.

Like many comedies, the success of the film rests on its writing and performances, and both here have a sharp, sly eye for irony and the peccadilloes that arise when we’re trying to hide things we’re embarrassed, ashamed of or not supposed to do.

Hannah may be an Orthodox Jew, but she’s also embraced aspects of modern womanhood, though that embrace can’t exist out in the open. Yet she must find a way to reconcile these sides of herself — a dilemma that propels her to reach out into the larger world.

That world is shot with a warm polish in the cinematography and a subtle grace in the camera movement, capturing a vision and side of Los Angeles that’s warmer, humbler and livelier than most cinematic representations of the city. The visuals beautifully capture how the city is a series of hidden pockets, and Hannah goes outside of her particular enclave to solve her problem.

This leads her to Davian, a young Black man, who she enlists to help. The two likely never would have met if not for Hannah’s immediate problem, but the dilemma forces them into an interaction that is both sweetly cringe-y and hilarious to watch. Actors Milana Vayntrub and Devere Rogers find a great comedic rhythm together that is true to both the wit and humor of the dialogue and the emotions of the characters. When all the elements come together in an impeccably paced crescendo of mishaps — and Hannah’s predilection comes out in the open — it’s an absolute delight of comic timing and culture clash.

Smart, witty and playful, “The Shabbos Goy” has a lightness of touch, but that sense of free spirit doesn’t elide over the characters’ social realities, which are deftly acknowledged in ways that don’t interrupt the pleasure of the storytelling. Instead, it invents ripe comedic opportunity in playfully setting up a collision between contrasting lives and people — and finding warmth and affection in the ways people can be there for one another, on the most basic level.

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