The Tollbooth

Ambling but never less than endearing, this comedy from first-time feature writer-director Debra Kirschner follows the travails of a young Jewish woman as she tries to fulfill her dream of becoming a serious artist. Raised on stories of Russian ancestors who barely escaped pogroms and named after two great aunts who died at Auschwitz, it's hardly surprising...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Ambling but never less than endearing, this comedy from first-time feature writer-director Debra Kirschner follows the travails of a young Jewish woman as she tries to fulfill her dream of becoming a serious artist. Raised on stories of Russian ancestors who barely escaped pogroms and named after two great aunts who died at Auschwitz, it's hardly surprising that Sarabeth Cohen (The Practice's Marla Sokoloff) should grow up with a vague sense of guilt and a strong sense of responsibility to do something more with her life than going to medical school like her oldest sister, Becky (Liz Stauber), or waiting to have a family, like their middle sister, Raquel (Broadway favorite Idina Menzel). Instead, Sarabeth attended design school and is now determined to live her life as a politically active artist. Rather than embracing Judaism as her observant mother, Ruthie (Tovah Feldshuh), and immigrant father, Isaac (Ronald Guttman), might have wished, Sarabeth now rejects all organized religion as an oppressive institution, and is committed to using her art to expose the ongoing subjugation of women wherever it might occur. Becoming a serious artist, of course, means relocating to New York City, and just when it looks like Sarabeth will first have to move back into her parents' Brooklyn home until she can save enough money as a cater waitress to afford the exorbitant Manhattan rent, Becky offers her space in her own apartment uptown. Sarabeth gratefully accepts and immediately sets up her easel in Becky's living room, while converting the walk-in closet into a bedroom of sorts. Meanwhile, Sarabeth's boyfriend, Simon (Rob McElhenney) — a goy, Ruthie never tires of reminding her daughter — has moved into a room above his uncle's garage in suburban Pennsylvania. At first they make every effort to see each on weekends — Sarabeth takes the train down to one week; Simon drives to New York the next — but soon the strain only adds to Sarabeth's growing frustration over not being able to attract the attention of any galleries interested in showing her politically charged work. In addition, Becky springs a major surprise on her family over Rosh Hashana dinner when, just after Raquel announces that's she finally pregnant, Becky drops the L-word: She's a lesbian. As her family begins to strain at the seams, Sarabeth is faced with a tough decision between creating the life she's always dreamt of having, and settling for the one she has right now. In many ways, Kirschner's film is reminiscent of the more accomplished but far more somber LA PETITE JERUSALEM, in which two Jewish sisters from an observant family attempt to negotiate similar paths between the sacred and the profane. But unlike that far more sobering film, Kirschner's bittersweet comedy has an easy going, less rigorous feel that nicely captures the Cohen family dynamic in all its loving messiness.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Ambling but never less than endearing, this comedy from first-time feature writer-director Debra Kirschner follows the travails of a young Jewish woman as she tries to fulfill her dream of becoming a serious artist. Raised on stories of Russian ancestors w… (more)

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