[Screen It]


(1998) (Renee Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston) (R)

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Tense Scenes
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Drama: A woman tries to break free from the religious confines that she believes are restricting her life.
Sonia (RENÉE ZELLWEGER) is a young Jewish woman who's married to Mendel (GLENN FITZGERALD), a dedicated religious scholar. Despite having just moved into a Hasidic community after giving birth to their first child, Sonia doesn't feel that she fits in. Although desperate for romantic and sexual passion in her life, she doesn't receive any from Mendel who finds such notions immoral.

She surprisingly finds that from her brother-in-law, Sender (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON), a successful businessman who runs a jewelry shop on the sly. Needing a new buyer and aware of Sonia's extensive knowledge of jewelry, he agrees to hire her in exchange that they continue their affair. That suits her fine and she blossoms in her new role. Visions of her long dead, ten-year- old brother Yossi (SHELTON DANE) and repeated encounters with a mysterious beggar woman (KATHLEEN CHALFANT), however, cause her to question her beliefs and behavior. As she begins another affair with Ramon (ALLEN PAYNE), a talented artist and jewelry maker, Sonia must contend with her sister-in-law, Rachel (JULIANNA MARGULIES), as well as Mendel, both of whom disapprove of her non-traditional ways.

It's not likely unless they're fans of someone in the cast.
For sexuality and brief language.
  • RENEE ZELLWEGER plays a woman who's not happy with her life and who blames most of that on what she believes is a restrictive religious lifestyle. As she breaks away from that, she has several affairs (while married) and eventually gives up her child.
  • CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON plays Sonia's brother-in-law who gives her the freedom she desires in exchange that she continue to have an affair with him.
  • GLENN FITZGERALD plays a dedicated religious scholar who puts his faith ahead of his marriage and thus jeopardizes his relationship with Sonia.


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    In 1985, Harrison Ford starred in "Witness," a film concerning a detective who ends up in an Amish community where he is, in essence, a fish out of water. Coming from a completely different background and heritage, Ford's character eventually accepts their ways and the community finally welcomes him into their fold.

    Now, more than a decade later, and hot off her success in "Jerry Maguire," actress Renee Zellweger stars in "A Price Above Rubies," another fish out of water story -- but this one comes with a one hundred and eighty-degree twist. Instead of being an initial stranger, she's one of the fold, and instead of both parties finally accepting each other, here they go their separate ways.

    Of course Zellweger's Sonia actually is a fish out of water right from the beginning. She constantly looks uncomfortable, and one wonders for some time about why she married Mendel and moved into a traditional, Hasidic community in the first place. We eventually learn that she's complying with her parents' wishes, but there needs to be more evidence of that to make it completely believable. As strong-willed as she is, coupled with the fact that we learn early on of her non-traditional Jewish beliefs (loving her brother more than God or her parents), it's hard to buy into the notions that she's agreed to all of this just to please her parents (whom we never see).

    Even so, Zellweger is engaging in the role, although some will obviously question her portrayal of a Hasidic Jew -- despite the fact that this incongruity seems intentional in both the casting and her performance. Perfectly playing a disillusioned and dissatisfied woman and wife, Zellweger brings a certain compassion to her character that endears her to the audience.

    Christopher Eccleston ("Jude") plays the catalytic character who finally breaks Sonia free from her "confines." In doing so, his character comes across as a despicable creep, although Eccleston gives him enough depth to hold our attention and make his character interesting. His brother-in- law, played by Glenn Fitgerald ("The Ice Storm"), on the other hand, plays a likeable guy despite his inability to comprehend and or satisfy his wife's needs. It would have been easy to portray Mendel as the stereotypical, ultra-religious Jew with his nose buried in the Torah, but Fitzgerald brings enough human qualities to his character to make him sympathetic to the audience. Neither he nor Sonia is right in their beliefs, but instead they've just come to an impasse in finding a compromise that will make both of them happy.

    While much of this sounds depressingly drab, writer/director Boaz Yakin (writer/director of 1994's "Fresh") has injected enough whimsical moments to lighten the mood. The introductory scene, for instance, where Sonia and Mendel's infant boy is set to undergo his ritual circumcision ceremony, is subtly humorous as the nervous parents can barely manage to go through with it. Likewise, during early scenes, Sonia behaves in a comically frustrated manner that belies her later problems as a new mother in a new setting. There are also several moments where she interacts with her long dead, ten-year-old brother as well as several encounters with a mysterious, homeless woman, both of which lend a fantasy-like feel to the proceedings.

    Although there's nothing particularly special or compelling about this story of a woman breaking free from her societal, religious, and self-imposed lifestyle, it arrives in a competent package with enough interesting performances to possibly make it worth seeing for some moviegoers. We give "A Price Above Rubies" a 5.5 out of 10.

    Limited profanity, some sexual scenes, and the film's portrayal of religion will probably be the biggest points of interest for parents. Although there's not a great deal of profanity, there are several uses of the "f" word and others. Several sexual encounters occur and while they don't contain any nudity, sexual movement is present and it comes off in more of an animal-like, instead of erotic, fashion. Some nonsexual nudity is also briefly seen. As far as the film's religious aspects, some may not like its portrayal of the Jewish community as "the bad guys" who restrict Sonia from blossoming, and her attitude toward Judaism (and religion in general) may also rub some viewers the wrong way. Beyond that, most of the other categories have little or no objectionable material.

  • The family drinks wine with dinner.
  • A man drinks a beer on the street.
  • Sender drinks beer with dinner.
  • None.
  • Some may view the film's portrayal of the Hasidic Jews and their lifestyle (as the source of Sonia's problems) as having both.
  • Some may also see Sonia's attitudes toward her religion as having both.
  • A young Sonia tells Yossi that she loves him more than God, to which her brother states is sacrilegious.
  • Sonia tells an older Hasidic leader that she has no soul. When he says that everyone has a soul, she says, "That may be, but it wasn't God who gave it to me."
  • After a rabbi tells Sonia that he always takes God's side, she says that he can't tell her which side to take. She then says that if God happens to be on the other side that she picks, so be it. When he later says that "we don't question God's actions," she says, "I'll do whatever I want -- question whoever I want."
  • Sender, although married, carries on an affair with Sonia, who is also married.
  • Sender tells Sonia that he doesn't have a conscience, and that he runs an unreported jewelry business.
  • Rachel makes sure that Sonia is cut off from her child, husband and mother in a spiteful way.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Screwed" (sexual) and "Dunce."
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "f" words, 2 "s" words, 6 asses, 3 hells, and 1 use each of "My God" and "Jesus" as exclamations.
  • In a scene with some movement and sounds, Sonia and Mendel awkwardly have sex (there is no nudity). When she briefly tries to zest things up a bit, he stops and tells her that "making love like that is indecent."
  • Confused and tense, Sonia briefly kisses Rachel (her sister-in-law) who is taken aback by this.
  • Sender kisses Sonia and then quickly has sex with her up against a wall with movement and sound, but no nudity.
  • We briefly see Sender between Sonia's legs as they have sex on a table with movement and sounds, but no nudity.
  • We see a bare-breasted female model and a nude man (covered) waiting for Ramon to sculpt them. When the woman gets up, we see her bare breasts again as well as a brief glimpse of full frontal nudity.
  • It's implied that Sonia and Ramon have sex as we see them in bed the next morning.
  • None.
  • Although not seen, it's implied that when they were kids Sonia's brother drowned in a lake while trying to prove that he could swim.
  • Sonia has several affairs, one of them with Sender who is also married.
  • Sonia and Mendel develop marital problems as she wants more passion in her life and he wants an old-fashioned wife.
  • As things worsen for Sonia, she finds herself cut off from Mendel, her child, and even her mother.
  • Accepting or questioning one's given religion.
  • Marrying and/or adopting certain lifestyles to please others (in this case, the never seen parents) instead of onself.
  • Some may see Sender's initial sex with Sonia as something nearing rape, but it's not clear cut and is more of a judgement call (since he suddenly has sex with her against a wall, but she only looks uncomfortable and not upset or scared).

  • Reviewed March 4, 1998

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