+ "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World": We’re so fantastically not in the mood for an Albert Brooks comedy right now (we could really go for settling in with a bottle of whiskey and some film, any film, dedicated to people being violent at each other), and the critical reception to this one is almost universally lukewarm and centered on analyzing Brooks’ career-long persona, so we’ll go pullquote-style:
David Edelstein at New York: "These days, Brooks wants to humiliate himself before anyone else can, and heâ€™s making a fetish of it, devoting so much energy to demonstrating what a loser and a fool he is that he sucks up all the oxygen onscreen. He forgets that satire doesn’t soar if the characters have no stature."
Stephen Metcalf (who we’re still rather unmoved-by as yet) at Slate: "Brooks could have gotten away with anything had the movie only stayed funny, but after a delicious windup, the clash of civilizations is presented without much comic brio at all."
Roger Ebert (who’s most fond): "Because I have seen all of Brooks’ movies, liked most of them and loved some, I was in training for "Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World." Veteran Brooks-watchers will be able to hear the secret melodies and appreciate the way he throws away even the throwaways."
Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader: "[S]atire inflected by sharp self-mockery ([Brooks is] embarrassed about being Jewish in India) doesn’t always mesh well with sentimental genre conventions (he sweetly advises his Indian girl Friday about her jealous boyfriend)."
J. Hoberman at the Village Voice: "[T]he movie is complicated by two paradoxesâ€”one annoyingly obvious, the other fascinatingly implicit. The first is the use of India, which, although home to 150 million Muslims, has six times as many Hindus; the second is that Brooks’s comic sensibility travels so badly. Woody Allen may bestride the world like a colossus, butâ€”the brilliance of ‘Real Life,’ ‘Modern Romance,’ and ‘Lost in America’ notwithstandingâ€”not even the French have shown any interest in Albert Brooks."
Stephanie Zacharek at Salon: "’Looking for Comedy’ was filmed on location in Delhi and Agra. But where’s the daring in that? Would Brooks have been forced to go further with his material if the story had been set in, say, Saudi Arabia — or any country that Westerners immediately identify, wrongly or correctly, as having a strong, "typically" Muslim mind-set — even if he hadn’t actually been able to film there? The unsavory truth is that Brooks didn’t really try very hard to look for comedy in the Muslim world — or anywhere else, for that matter — and yet he wants to claim credit for at least trying to lift the veil."
+ "Go for Zucker": A big hit in its native Germany, Dani Levy‘s broad comedy about a very secular man pretending to be Orthodox in order to reconcile with his religious brother and get his share of an inheritance also attracted a lot of international press attention for being the first German-Jewish comedy since World War II, as portrayals of Jews in German media remained a far more sensitive topic than anyone could imagine, much less venture into making a laughing matter. The New York Times‘ Stephen Holden (whose review is really more a summary of the film) doesn’t predict "Zucker" will draw the same crowds here:
How much is "Go for Zucker" likely to tickle American audiences? Enough, I would guess, to generate some chuckles, but not enough to bring down the house. Some movies travel overseas more easily than others.
At the New Yorker, David Denby likes the film a lot, as a comedy, as a metaphor for reunified Germany, and as an oddly moving cultural artifact: "I was moved by the thought that Jews have achieved a kind of Germanness again, and even more moved by the thought that Germans have achieved a kind of Jewishness again." J. Hoberman at the Voice isn’t impressed by its portrayal of Jewish life, even in a farcical sense: "[T]he movie would have greater resonance were Zucker an unreconstructed, obnoxious DDR-nik. At least, Levy would have covered all available Nazi-era Jewish stereotypesâ€”greedy whoremonger, religious charlatan, and capitalist schemer, joined by the latter’s alter ego, Communist subversive."