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The Only Living Boy in New York
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language and some drug material.
Theater: Uptown.

This eminently forgettable ensemble drama continues the current mini-trend of drawing film titles from old Paul Simon songs that play out full-length in the film. It worked ever so much better for "Baby Driver."

The film begins promisingly, with swanky production design and polished work by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. The setting is the sort of posh but troubled Manhattan that is home base for Woody Allen's serious movies.

The title character, preppy 20-something Tom Webb (Callum Turner, a doppelgänger for the young Richard Gere), feels ever so lonely. Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), the girlfriend he covets, keeps him locked in the friend zone. Mom (Cynthia Nixon) is rich-woman depressed and dad (Pierce Brosnan) is publishing-executive distant. So distant that he squires a beautiful and seductive woman out to dinner on evenings when he has used an overwhelming workload at the office to beg out of home cooking.

Before you can say "love triangle" or, "Hey, this is sort of like 'The Graduate,' " petulant Tom begins a quiet tug of war to possess Dad's mistress, partly to punish his father's infidelity and partly because she's played by the irresistible Kate Beckinsale. With Jeff Bridges added to the mix as a rather mysterious mentor, the story proceeds ever so tastefully but nowhere notably interesting.

Director Marc Webb gets unaffected performances from his cast, mostly. (Bridges plays a boozer in a way that's too much on the bulbous red nose.) Too bad that the film whiffs it with Allan Loeb's script, which is no more creative in generating shocking family secrets than a random soap opera.

⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG; in subtitled Yiddish.
Theater: Edina and Willow Creek.

Menashe Lustig as Menashe in “Menashe.” (A24)
Menashe Lustig as Menashe in “Menashe.” (A24)

In "Menashe," filmmaker Joshua Z. Weinstein uses nonactors to create a tender portrait of family, turning his camera on a New York City neighborhood made up predominantly of Orthodox Jews whose 18th-century traditions still govern everything from custody disputes to attire. In addition to the fascinating everyday details of these characters' lives, at the film's moving core is a loving father who is struggling to negotiate the gap between community expectations and self-determination.

The title character (played by real-life grocer Menashe Lustig) is a gregarious but oafish type. After his wife dies, his young son Rieven (Ruben Niborski) is sent to live with an aunt and uncle because, according to Hasidic culture, a home is incomplete without a woman to raise children. The arrangement is supposed to continue until Menashe finds a second wife. Except he's not interested in getting a replacement partner. Menashe announces that he intends to raise Rieven on his own — much to the consternation of many in the community.

The film doesn't judge. Weinstein finds common ground on both sides of the religious divide. Many characters keep their feelings buried, engaging in the ubiquitous gossip to mask what they really think. The Yiddish language barrier that most viewers will face also adds some mystery to the drama, because there are stretches of dialogue where the characters seem to be saying way more than the subtitles convey.
Alan Zilberman, Washington Post

The Fencer
⋆½ out of four stars
Not rated by MPAA; in subtitled Estonian and Russian.
Theater: Lagoon.

This biopic proves that all feel-good sports movies are the same — even those set in the grim, rural outposts of the 1950s Soviet Union. Mart Avandi plays Endel Nelis, a champion fencer whose wartime past as a Nazi conscript makes him a target of the Russian secret police. He flees Leningrad for a small town in Estonia, where he finds work running a high school sports club.

After a student sees Endel practicing his swordsmanship, he shows the schoolchildren how to spar with reeds plucked from a nearby marsh. The children become enthusiastic fencers. When they read about an all-Soviet tournament, they beg Endel to enter their team in the competition. He finally agrees, even though it means risking possible arrest. Or so one might think. While we keep watching for the police to show up, the third act turns into just another rehash of the underdog sports movie.
Maia Silber, Washington Post