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Passover Feature Forget the Four Cups of Wine: Film’s Patriarch Rolls Through Seder

April 11, 2006
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Just in time for Passover comes the comedy “When Do We Eat?,” presenting your typical Jewish family, the Stuckmans, assembled for a warm seder celebration. As the program notes put it, “Even though the Stuckmans gather for a Passover seder, this could be any family with any background.”

Here is the portrait of “any” family:

Father Ira has a hair-trigger temper, a constant stomach problem he insists is heartburn, and makes a nice living manufacturing Christmas ornaments.

Long-suffering mother Peggy has had a tent built outside the house and roasted a lamb on an outside spit “just like Moses” so that her fervently Orthodox son can eat at the seder.

Daughter Nikki is a professional sex surrogate who, with dad’s financial backing, is branching out into cybersex devices for the homebound.

Son Ethan, a former high-tech entrepreneur who went bust, recently became Chasidic. The glowingly spiritual young man splits his time between talking about the Rebbe and God and dealing with old sexual tensions with his second cousin Vanessa, who spends most of the seder talking on her cell phone.

Jennifer, Ira’s daughter from a previous marriage, is a lesbian who brings along her African-American companion Grace. Wearing a large crucifix, Grace tries desperately to infuse some spirituality into the proceedings.

Teenage son Zeke is a stoner, and has just picked up a tab of Ecstasy cut with LSD, called “touch-of-God X.”

Youngest son Lionel is autistic. His father insists he’s an “idiot savant” because of his high video game scores.

Grandfather Artur, descended from six generations of hat makers, frequently extolls the virtues of Ira’s siblings and mother, all killed in the Holocaust, usually to imply his disappointment in Ira.

All in all, a well-adjusted clan, which quickly goes about smashing the seder plate and pretty much everything else in the large backyard tent where the celebration is taking place.

Early on, Zeke senses the impending storm, and slips his Ecstasy into his father’s antacid.

Ira starts seeing biblical visions, including a cantorial trio and a cameo appearance by Moses.

Inspired by the visions, Ira fancies himself a second Moses commanded to lead his bickering tribe into a place of harmony. The family members, however, are not easily led by the cantankerous, flawed and clearly high patriarch.

Up to the beginning of these hallucinations, the film is hard to beat as an exercise in unabashed vulgarity.

One redeeming feature of the enterprise is the setting of the seder table, drawn from the illustrations of Artur Szyk’s well-known Haggadah.

“When Do We Eat?” brings back somber memories of “It Runs in the Family,” the short-lived Kirk/Michael Douglas movie of three years ago.

That one also featured three generations of a Jewish family, the Gombergs, who are as dysfunctional as the Stuckmans, but obscenely rich to boot.

By coincidence, the Gombergs also have a seder from hell but somehow are brought to understanding and love at the fadeout.

After the sad experience of the Douglas film, which sank without a trace despite a big-name cast, it took a certain foolhardy courage for director Salvador Litvak, who co-wrote the script with his wife Nina Davidovich, to tackle the same story line and antics in this film.

Among the better-known actors trying to extract some measure of credibility from the general hysteria are Michael Lerner as the father, Lesley Ann Warren as his wife and Jack Klugman — who played Oscar in television’s “The Odd Couple” — as the grandfather.

Other family members and guests include Meredith Scott Lynn, Shiri Appleby, Mili Avital, Ben Feldman, Adam Lamberg, Max Greenfield, Cynda Williams and Mark Ivanir.

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