A Hefty Serving of Schmaltz The Talks Today
Judd Hirsch goes full shtick in a sweet but mawkishly sentimental tribute to heritage and family. iMordecai thrusts a retired Jewish plumber and painter into the modern world when his son buys him an iPhone. The digital embrace unleashes a new zest for life while also evoking memories of escaping the Holocaust as a child. iMordecai then adds a hefty serving of schmaltz with labored subplots that dilute the narrative.
A frustrated Marvin Samel (Sean Astin) drives to his parents condo on Miami Beach. Mordecai (Hirsch) can’t hear his son. He’s using a jackhammer to tear up the bathroom and has an ancient flip phone held together with aluminum foil. Marvin forces Mordecai and his mother, Fela (Carol Kane), to the mall.
Mordecai refuses to even look at the iPhone but is impressed by a demonstration in the store. Nina (Azia Dinea Hale) teaches a class on how to use apps to create art. Marvin buys the phone for his father. They argue over Marvin’s struggling cigar business. Mordecai mortgaged their condo to keep it afloat. Marvin thinks his father is “a jinx.” He has newborn twins and a wife (Stephanie J. Block) concerned about mounting bills.
Mordecai returns to the store to get help. Nina, who also volunteers at the Jewish Community Center, offers to give him lessons on how to use it. They become friends much to Fela’s chagrin. She hears Mordecai talking to Siri and gets the wrong idea. As Mordecai rocks Beats headphones and cruises the internet, he tells Nina of his childhood in Poland. His family were sent to death camps as he fled to Russia. Nina’s terrified to tell Mordecai her secret. Marvin’s on the verge of losing everything, but Fela becomes Mordecai’s greatest concern.
Marvin Samel directs/co-writes a story inspired by his own family. He uses animation to depict the events of World War II. It’s a visual break and tool to address the darkness of Mordecai’s youth. This works initially but becomes less effective as the film progresses. Mordecai’s colorful antics intercut with cartoon grief doesn’t have the desired impact. Hirsch is more than capable of delivering a textured performance. His voice-over narration instead of physical emotion robs the film of dramatic heft. I can understand Samel’s desire to avoid anguish. iMordecai is meant to be comedic but addresses serious themes. Hirsch, Oscar-nominated for The Fabelmans, would have been dynamite expressing such tragic loss.
The supporting characters have too much going on. Marvin’s business dealings take up a lot of time. A father leveraging everything to support his son adds weight. Nina, a wholly unbelievable character, tips the scales. Her backstory and reason for helping Mordecai is a big stretch. Samel needed to pare down her involvement to just an iPhone tutor. Then focus attention on Mordecai reconnecting with his family and Holocaust remembrance. The broad approach doesn’t work. The film has good intentions but goes overboard in its attempt to check every box.
iMordecai is a production of Femor, Buffalo 8, and Chaos Emporium. It is currently in theatrical release from Greenwich Entertainment.