Friday, February 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Loving Leah (2009)

My latest exploration of Hallmark films led me to a real find, the Hallmark Hall of Fame production LOVING LEAH (2009).

Leah Lever (Lauren Ambrose) lives in Brooklyn and is married to Benjamin (David Rossmer), an Orthodox rabbi who dies suddenly.

Benjamin's distant brother David (Adam Kaufman), a busy doctor and non-observant Jew who lives in Washington, D.C., is confronted with the tradition of needing to marry his brother's childless widow to carry on the family name. It's either that or go through a ceremony in which he denies his brother's existence, and David unexpectedly finds himself unable to follow through with that option.

David suggests to Leah that they marry in name only, which assuages his guilt about not having much of a relationship with his brother, while enabling Leah to get away from her controlling mother (Susie Essman) and attend college. David and Leah will figure out what happens later...later.

Needless to say, David's girlfriend Carol (Christy Pusz) has a little trouble wrapping her brain around her boyfriend's unusual marriage, and she wisely cuts out of the picture pretty quickly.

The joy of the film is watching how Leah and David become entwined in each other's lives, each making changes. David's apartment undergoes a transformation, with a mezuzah in each doorway, a kosher kitchen, and Sabbath prayers on Fridays. Eventually his pool table leaves in favor of a dining table, the better to enjoy Leah's cooking.

Leah meanwhile prepares for college by studying for her SATs, and she also begins to explore how she wants to live out her faith as an independent adult. Initially embarrassed when she visits a nearby Reform shul and realizes the rabbi (Ricki Lake) is a woman, she ultimately finds in the rabbi a new friend and sympathetic listener. Leah also wrestles with issues regarding whether she wants to maintain every Orthodox tradition she's lived by to that point, such as covering her hair with a wig in public. For his part, David begins to enjoy and reclaim the traditions which were part of his religious heritage.

The couple grow close, but then David finds himself wracked with guilt that he is able to be happy with Leah because his brother is dead...

I thought this was a wonderful film, very absorbing and even educational. Though it's obvious where the story is going from the outset -- after all, the title is LOVING LEAH -- the pleasure is in the couple's journey. I also found the depictions of Jewish life extremely interesting; it's rare for a film to go into so many details regarding religious practice and values.

Another particular pleasure for me is that Leah is a classic film fan, something she had felt she'd had to keep hidden from her family; she would sneak off to the movie theater. She wrestles with her own guilt, that when Benjamin had died suddenly, she'd been in a revival house watching a classic movie, when everyone thought she'd been shopping.

When Leah moves in with David, Bernard Dick's biography of Claudette Colbert is on her nightstand, and she later tells David about IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and the walls of Jericho.

LOVING LEAH was directed by Jeff Bleckner from a script by Pnenah Goldstein. It was filmed by Charles Minsky.

LOVING LEAH is available on DVD. An Amazon review indicated that the DVD has scenes which didn't air on TV; the TV version minus commercials is roughly 85 minutes long, give or take a couple minutes, and I found a version on YouTube which is 93 minutes long. Sure enough, the YouTube version has scenes which weren't part of the TV broadcast!

I suspect the scenes may have been part of the original CBS network broadcast and then were trimmed for reruns on Hallmark Channel, but that's just an educated guess. They weren't critical but it was interesting to see them, and I plan to buy the DVD for future viewing. I'll be wanting to watch this one again.

3 Comments:

Blogger Brittaney said...

Isn't this a great one? It's a favorite at my house. It has hidden depth.

4:25 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Had you not written about Loving Leah, Laura, I would never have heard of this gem of a film. A friend has it and I have just watched it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm going to take another look shortly. I can't thank you enough.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Brittaney, thanks so much for adding your recommendation for this special movie.

Mel, that's amazing you had a friend who had it and were able to watch it already! Nothing makes me happier than to enjoy a film -- especially an extra-good one like this -- and then hear that as a result, someone else enjoyed it too. Thank you so much for letting me know you liked it! Like you, I think I will watch it again soon. There was a lot to take in.

Best wishes,
Laura

1:07 AM  

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