Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dear God, Did you Laugh as Much at “"You Don't Mess With the Zohan" as I did?

Dear God, Did you Laugh as Much at “"You Don't Mess With the Zohan" as I did?

By Kevin Stoda

Dear God,
Did you laugh as much at Adam Sandler’s (2008) as much as I did?
I bet you did.
"You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is so filled with irony about the promised land that the laughter nearly brought me to tears. The Middle East is so full of tears anyway that we know you Y…….. must share in these tears—along with the laughter there any way.
Stephanie Zacharak was right when she writes: “Despite the bare butts and crude sex jokes -- or because of them -- this Adam Sandler vehicle addresses some of the biggest political problems of our time.”

Sadly, I was living in the Middle East when the film came out in 2008—and most Arab countries didn’t put it in the movie theaters. So, until I saw it tonight here at the edge of East Asia, I had been oblivious to the film’s existence. Amazingly, the film is not highly rated in most media venues and many internet site rating systems.


Nonetheless, “[o]n the positive side, Time claimed the film to be a "laff scuffle," and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars. David Edelstein of New York Magazine went as far as to say "Adam Sandler is mesmerizing," and A.O Scott of The New York Times said it was ‘the finest post-Zionist action-hairdressing sex comedy I have ever seen.’”

Writing for , Zacharak notes that in “’You Don't Mess With the Zohan’ -- in which Adam Sandler plays an Israeli counterterrorist commando whose big dream is to become a hairdresser -- is the movie "Munich" [2005] should have been. At the very least, it's got to be the first picture to use smelly-feet jokes as a means of parsing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“Munich” was one of those Stephen Spielberg films that Zacharak described as was “interested in notions of personal responsibility and guilt as he [Spielberg] is in pure storytelling.” Zacharack noted of Spielberg that “at his best, he helps us make the distinction between the facile and somewhat detached motto favored by Christian teens, ‘What would Jesus do?’ and the more probing realist-humanist question, ‘What would -- or should -- I have done?’”

Munich was “a fictionalized version of a real-life story: After the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped and murdered 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, Israel responded -- secretly -- by assigning a team of underground hit men to seek out and kill 11 men whom Israeli intelligence had identified as masterminds of the plot. ‘Munich,’ its script by Eric Roth and Tony Kushner, was inspired by Canadian journalist George Jonas' controversial book, ‘Vengeance.’”

In contrast, Zacharak says that “"You Don't Mess With the Zohan" is “a mainstream movie that dares to make jokes about the kinds of complex political realities that most of us don't dare bring up at dinner parties. And while it doesn't attempt to offer any viable diplomatic solution (you won't see Sandler accepting the Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon, or ever), it makes a valiant effort to bridge a gap that most of us, dispiritingly, have come to believe is unbridgeable.”


Giving a big thumbs up to the effort of Sandler’s Zacharach narrates the beginning of the Adam Sandler tale, “And while it [Zohan] doesn't attempt to offer any viable diplomatic solution (you won't see Sandler accepting the Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon, or ever), it makes a valiant effort to bridge a gap that most of us, dispiritingly, have come to believe is unbridgeable. When Zohan's mother, played by the saucy, sunny Dina Doronne, urges him to stay in the army, she professes to see some light at the end of this very long, dark tunnel: ‘They've been fighting for 2,000 years, it can't be much longer." The stark reality is that it probably will be.’”
I know, God, that from your perspective 2000 years is not a long time but for those of us here on planet earth for only an average of 3 and a half generations, such lengthy squabbles are disheartening. Luckily, as Zacharak explains, “that isn't going to stop Sandler from proffering this bold, optimistic olive branch, one that attempts to show that, since Arabs and Jews have learned to get along (at least reasonably well) in New York, their problems in the Middle East can't be unsolvable. No matter where you stand on Adam Sandler -- with his extremely profitable blend of crudeness and self-effacing regular-guy sweetness -- there's no denying the audacity of Sandler's basic idea (he co-wrote the script with Robert Smigel and the ubiquitous Judd Apatow; Dennis Dugan is the director), or the pleasure he takes in poking fun at both sides, even as he extends a degree of sympathy to each one.”
Unlike many films set in America over the years, this one is told fully from the perspective of Middle Easters who leave the 2000 years of strife and generally push peace in the new world while genuinely trying to start over—without the memories and baggage of their ancestors weighing them down. The main character, Zohan—played by Sandler, is a Samson-like Israeli Soldier Superhero who walks away from his fame and army tradition to escape to America and try to live out his dream, which is to become a hair stylist (but not at As Zacharak says in her column, “Zohan is a lover, not a fighter…. [and] Zohan won't be deterred.”

After Zohan “finds a way to make it to New York, he realizes his dream isn't so easy to achieve. But he does get a foot in the door at a salon run by a stunning, charming Palestinian woman, Dalia (Emmanuelle Chrigui), and he eventually becomes the salon's most popular stylist, in part because he has so much sexual energy that he happily services all the older ladies… .” Alas, “Zohan learns that he can't escape his past -- or his homeland's past -- just by switching countries.”

As you know, Lord, one cannot outrun you or one’s past. Our days our numbered here. Even in New York City Zohan is forced to confront the old family feuds and centuries of anti-Semitism (Anti-Jewish and Anti-Muslim), which still raise their heads in relatively peaceful America—where Palestinian Arabs and Jews can normally live across the street together without any ruckuses being raised.

Zacharak’s main point is that “’Zohan’ never attempts to simplify the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: If anything, it acknowledges the ways in which that conflict is both political and religious, deeply personal and nothing personal. When one of Zohan's newfound New York friends, an electronics-store employee named Oori (Ido Mosseri), first suggests he try to get a job at Dalia's salon, he notes that it's on the Palestinian side of the street: This is a movie where businesspeople with deep-rooted religious and political differences are symbolically lined up directly across from one another. Zohan resists: ‘I've already done enough to my parents!’ -- a way of acknowledging that old wounds, on both sides, run so deep through so many generations, that it's impossible to accurately trace their genesis. In a later scene, a group of clumsy would-be terrorists led by an embittered cab driver (played by Rob Schneider) sit around a kitchen table plotting Zohan's capture. Their motivation isn't so much political (it can actually be traced to a stolen goat), but still, they tap the expertise available to them by calling a ‘Hezbollah hotline,’ where a friendly female voice greets them with the words, ‘For terrorist supplies, press 1.’”

In short, the only simplification in the comedy is that not-unlike parables of Jesus, which tell much more than originally meets the eye. A.O. Scott of the New York Times writes of the film, “American diplomatic efforts have so far proved inadequate to the task of bringing peace to the Middle East, but ‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’ taps into deeper and more durable sources of American global power in its quest for a plausible end to hostilities. Ancient grievances and festering hatreds are no match for the forces of sex, money, celebrity and exuberant, unapologetic stupidity.”

The film is raunchy but it has many redeeming qualities—and is not very explicit even in sex. “I suppose some Middle East policy-scolds may find reasons to quarrel with “Zohan,” either for being too evenhanded or not evenhanded enough in its treatment of Israelis and Palestinians. Did I mention that it’s a comedy? Seriously, though, the movie’s radical, utopian and perfectly obvious point is that the endless collection and recitation of political grievances is not funny at all, and that political strife is a trivial distraction from the things that really matter.”

In short, as Scott concludes for us who like short parables, “There is so much hummus, and so little time.”

We need to use our wealth, worlds resources, and work for peace while having fun—i.e. over fighting over particular memories of the past that we cannot change.




God doesn’t need a glossary but some movie viewers may need this glossary.

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