Directed by Kevin Asch (2010) Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha, Danny A. Abeckaser, Jason Fuchs
Sam Gold (Eisenberg) is a Hassidic Jew who works at his father’s fabric shop while studying to become a rabbi. He wants to get married, but his hopes are stymied in the face of his family’s poverty. When his neighbor Yosef (Bartha) gives him the opportunity to make more money by smuggling medicine in from Europe, he agrees, continuing with the trade even after its revealed that they are smuggling ecstasy.
Sam is contrasted with his friend, and Yosef’s younger brother, Leon (Fuchs), who drops out of the smuggling group when he finds out that they’re bringing back drugs. Leon is posed as who Sam could be–he’s a better student than Sam and holds no moral qualms when informing their mother what Yosef is doing. Unfortunately, this hurts the friendship, even more so when Leon gets the blessing to marry the girl who was previously engaged to Sam. However, come the end of the film, its clear that Leon plays a very important role in Sam’s life, especially when smuggling the ecstasy becomes a crisis of faith.
Switching from a life that is determined in creating a separate, conservative religious community to the fast life of girls, drugs, and clubbing, it’s clear that Sam has been thrown into a difficult situation. He’s strained between the easy money and fun he gets in the new job, while having to hide the details away from his family. When he’s discovered, it’s complete shame and he is forced out of the community. The community of his job– having fun with Yosef, experiencing a one-sided relationship with Rachel (Ari Graynor), and convincing others to join the organization– seems like a better option, at least money-wise. However, when the crisis becomes too much, the most poignant scene is when Sam meets a Dutch Jew on the streets of Amsterdam and prays.
Holy Rollers has an unusual situation from the get-go as a religious minority, but the stresses of familial expectation and money woes makes Sam’s decision to continue understandable, but his eventual return to conservative faith makes for a fascinating watch. Jesse Eisenberg gives an impressive performance as he leaves his safety zone of nerdy jerks to a character based off a true story. He plays it honestly, and its a pleasure to watch.