When Do We Eat?

There are plenty of movies about dysfunctional Christmas dinners with the family.  Recent examples include The Family Stone (kind of), and Surviving Christmas, a really rancid example.  Salvador Litvack probably felt left out.  Where were the annoying Jewish themed family meal comedies?  Woody Allen never really made one.  So he got together with Nina Davidovich, and the two wrote the screenplay for When Do We Eat?  Litvack also directed this effort, which is essentially one long sitcom full of outrageously fake characters mashed together for maximum dysfunction.

The impetus is a traditional Seder, something the Stuckman's have not done for years.  After all, Ira (Michael Lerner, Elf, Larceny) owns a company that makes Christmas ornaments.  However, his son Ethan (Max Greenfield, Cross Bronx) is now a Hasidic Jew, and Ira's wife Peggy (Lesley Ann Warren, My Tiny Universe, Secretary) wants to make him feel welcome.  A few years ago, there was a falling out between Ira and Ethan, and this is his first Seder back.  The Stuckmans are not exactly the poster children for Judaic culture.  Ira's specialty is a speedy Seder that zooms through most of the ceremony so that the entire family can get to the food.

And what a purposefully weird family it is.  Nikki (Shiri Appleby, Undertow, The Battle of Shaker Heights) is a sexologist.  Zeke (Ben Feldman) is a high schooler with a drug problem.  The youngest son, Lionel (Adam Lamberg, The Lizzie Maguire Movie, Max Keeble's Big Move) has autism.  Meanwhile, Ira's daughter Jennifer (Meredith Scott Lynn, Hollywood Homicide, Legally Blonde) has a job doing close captioning.  Why does Litvack mention this?  Hard to say, because it never comes into play.  She brings her girlfriend Grace (Cynda Williams, MacArthur Park, The Last Call) into the madness.  Also on hand are Ira's father Artur (Jack Klugman, Dear God, Two-Minute Warning), who still believes that the Nazis will come at any minute, and hot cousin Vanessa (Mili Avital, The Human Stain, Kissing A Fool), and Rafi (Mark Ivanir, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Terminal), the guy with the eye patch who set up the traditional tent in the backyard.

Zeke brings home some ecstasy that his father mistakenly ingests, setting the stage of forced hilarity.  It never arrives.  Instead, Litvack and Davidovich try to enrich the characters by showing hazy flashbacks of pivotal moments in their lives that typically have something to do with a fight that will happen shortly.  The comedy is broad, and the acting is over-the-top, focusing primarily on the tension between Ira and Ethan and Ira's altered state.  They tried to make everything funny by making the family as outrageous as possible.  Ooh, let's throw in a sexologist, drugs, and even a bit of semi-incest!  The constant bickering turns into an undistinguishable cacophony, and When Do We Eat? turns surprisingly boring.  But this is a holiday movie, so everything is required to be happy by the end.  The problem here is that any sentimental moments ring false, and by the time Litvack wants to wrap things up nicely, nobody watching will care anymore.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated R for drug use, language, and some sexual content.

Back to Movies