Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can non-Jews play Jews?

Joanna Smith Rakoff makes the case in Jewcy that Weeds is the most Jewish show on television.

I, too, admired the understated way in which Weeds made its Jewyness known. (This is despite the fact that the show itself was only good for about a season. (Season 2).) And I liked the overstated way they made the character of Andy (Justin Kirk) become a Rabbi in order to avoid army service. (Long story.)

The only thing that bothered me --

Justin Kirk is so not Jewish.

Not that he wasn't great. The first season was utterly limp until he showed up. But I will never, ever, ever believe that Justin Kirk is in training to be a Rabbi.

Which actually isn't all that unusual. A lot of great actors have failed the Jew test. There's no way I could believe Robert DeNiro was a nebbishy Jewish comedian in The King of Comedy. And even though I liked Defiance (and had mixed feelings about Munich) who decided that Daniel Craig was Jewish looking? (But at least he was more believable than Richard Gere who played the Rabbi in Bee Season. Oy.)

One of the reasons that Woody Allen movies in which he doesn't appear as an actor tend to be so crappy is because he picks such obviously non-Jewish actors (John Cusack, Kenneth Brannaugh) to play Woody Allen roles. Such an unfortunate decision.

In fact, it's sort of tough to think of a movie or play in which a non-Jewish actor has done a really good Jewish performance. It's true Maureen Stapleton (the quintessential Irish woman) gave a wonderful performance as Emma Goldman in Reds. And I was alone in thinking that Alfred Molina was not bad as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. But otherwise, I'm sort of at a loss.