A Price Above Rubies

on March 27, 1998 by Wade Major
Given the frequency with which filmmakers seem compelled to revisit the world of Hasidic Jewry, one would expect the age-old stereotypes and formulas to have at least somewhat diminished. For a time, writer/director Boaz Yakin's "A Price Above Rubies," his much-awaited follow-up to the award-winning "Fresh," was expected to do precisely that. Unfortunately, Yakin's film falls prey to the same diversions and pitfalls as previous efforts, opting to approach Hasidism less as a subject in itself than as a backdrop for a rather mundane story of feminine liberation.
Renee Zellweger stars as the spirited Sonia, a rebellious young Hasidic woman whose untamed impulses increasingly wreak havoc with every facet of her life, ultimately destroying not only her marriage, but her relationship with the Hasidic community at large.
Ironically, it is not Yakin's reliance upon so well-worn a premise as the conflict between community and self that sabotages his film, but rather the almost total lack of emotional development. Instead of wasting time explaining the hows and whys of Sonia's rebelliousness, the film introduces a woman already in the throes of burgeoning independence. No sooner has she given birth than she is shown protesting her infant son's circumcision, disrespecting her scholar husband Mendel (Glenn Fitzgerald) and shirking her responsibilities as wife and mother to work for her brother-in-law Sender, a jeweler with whom she has also begun an illicit affair.
As the screws of conformity and discipline tighten around her, Sonia goes the way of all other alienated movie heroines and declares her independence by bedding down with a sensitive hunk, in this case a Puerto Rican sculptor and jewelry maker (Allen Payne) in whose career she has taken special interest.
Also problematic is the casting of Zellweger, an otherwise fine actress whose demeanor and appearance are so wholly unsuited to playing a Hasidic Jew that her ostracization from the community seems that much more appropriate.
On a positive note, the film features fine technical contributions from cinematographer Adam Holender and production designer Dan Leigh. Starring Renee Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston, Glenn Fitzgerald, Julianna Margulies and Allen Payne. Directed and written by Boaz Yakin. Produced by Lawrence Bender. A Miramax release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality and brief language. Running time: 116 min.
Tags: Renee Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston, Glenn Fitzgerald, Julianna Margulies and Allen Payne, Boaz Yakin, Lawrence Bender, Miramax, Drama

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