‘Holy Rollers’ may seem like a dark, shameful film, but give it a chance

‘Holy Rollers’ may seem like a dark, shameful film, but give it a chance

Warning: “Holy Rollers,” the next movie in the Jewcy Series, which will be screened Saturday, Aug. 28, 9 p.m., at SouthSide Works Cinema, is not an easy picture to watch — especially for religious Jews.
But don’t leave the theater in the middle of the movie, or you’ll miss its ultimate message: The power of redemption and renewal is contained in the Jewish faith.
“Holy Rollers” is about Sammy (Jesse Eisenberg), a young man lured into the world of drug dealing — Ecstasy specifically — with the promise of easy money and beautiful women. Ambitious and smart, he ascends rapidly through the drug ring, but at a price. He is estranged from his family, becomes addicted himself and is ultimately arrested by police — his life in ruins.
Sounds like the typical tale of woe for anyone who drifts into the drug world. So why is this an especially troubling story for religious Jews? Because Sammy is a religious Jew. And all the main characters in this story, from the drug kingpins down, are Jewish too — though not the religious sort.
After Sammy’s marriage arrangement is scuttled by his prospective in-laws, he falls easy pray to Yosef, his next door neighbor who may look the part of a religious Jew — black hat, beard, tzit tzit — but he is really a recruiter of naive Orthodox Jews to smuggle Ecstasy into the country from Amsterdam without attracting suspicion from customs officials.
Sammy becomes his next recruit. And we are taken into a dark world of shady deals, rave parties, people who use other people, and people who realize — too late — that they are being used.
We won’t spoil the ending here, but we will preemptively defend “Holy Rollers,” which is based on actual events. Some people may reflexively pan the film as an attack on Orthodox Judaism and a shanda for the goyim. It is anything but. Sammy is human, like any other human, and he makes mistakes. In the end though, he finds his redemption in Judaism.
That makes “Holly Rollers” one of the most hopeful movies of the year. It will also stir conversation about some important issues within our community, and that’s never a bad thing.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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