Jewish buddy stories are having a moment.
Last month’s high-intellectual-octane dialogue from David Shields and Caleb Powell, “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel,” received rave reviews, and a film adaptation from James Franco is scheduled for release later this year.
Meanwhile, the film “The D-Train,” starring Jack Black and co-directed by Jarrad Paul (whose screen credits include a turn as a mohel in the show “Rude Awakening”), generated some early buzz at Sundance, where Vulture described it as “the rare mismatched buddy comedy that finally has the guts to follow through on its central bromance.”
And then there’s “Broad City,” the fearless, raunchy, marijuana-fueled series that kicked off last year on Comedy Central with an episode hinging on a Craigslist ad posted by “2 Jewesses tryin’ to make a buck.” Since then, the show — and its co-creators/stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer — have more or less taken over the world (more on that in a moment).
But what is a Jewish buddy story, anyway? Certainly the “Lethal Weapon” series is out, for obvious reasons. But do, say, “Ghostbusters” and “Midnight Cowboy” make the cut for having Jewish directors and a Jewish co-star? The lines aren’t always clear.
Nevertheless, we did our best to trace the genre’s evolution over the last half-century. We admit that this list isn’t definitive; think of it, rather, as a springboard for further debate with your buddies.
1. The Producers (1968 film, Mel Brooks)
Boil down Mel Brooks’s landmark showbiz satire and you’re left with a story of two mismatched buddies: the sleazy, comb-over-sporting, bankrupt-in-every-way Broadway producer, Max Bialystock (played with relish by Zero Mostel), and the hysterical, security-blanket-toting accountant whom he corrupts, Leopold Bloom (Gene Wilder).
Even in the film’s final moments, after Bialystock and Bloom have been convicted for overselling shares in the intentionally dreadful musical, “Springtime for Hitler,” the duo is once again overselling shares for a behind-bars production called “Prisoners of Love.” Now that’s friendship.
2. My Dinner With Andre (1981 film, Louis Malle)
Opinions vary on Louis Malle’s portrait of two Jewish intellectuals (Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves) yakking for two hours in a posh Manhattan restaurant. Some find it pretentious, self-indulgent, and painfully dry. Others, like the late Roger Ebert, think it’s “a thrilling drama…with more action than “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Whatever your feelings, “Dinner” is worth watching for its boldness as a cinematic experiment. There are no special effects here, just two Jews talking about the meaning of life.
3. The Chosen (1967 novel, Chaim Potok; 1981 film, Jeremy Kagan)
The story begins with Danny Saunders sending a line-drive baseball into Reuven Malter’s eye. But by the end of “The Chosen,” the 15-year-old co-protagonists are so close that Danny’s father, a charismatic Hassidic rabbi, addresses his son’s plans to break with tradition and become a psychologist in a speech delivered to Reuven, who describes it as Reb Saunders “talking to Danny through me.”
As an up-close examination of the fault lines between Hasidic and assimilated Jews in World War II-era Brooklyn, “The Chosen” is the most overtly Jewish story on our list. It’s also the most ambitious. Embedded in the story is a nuanced portrayal of American Jewry’s turmoil over the creation of a Jewish state.
4. Seinfeld (1989-1998 TV series, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld)
Do you really need any further explanation?
5. Tuesdays With Morrie (1997 memoir, Mitch Albom; 1999 TV movie, Mick Jackson)
“My visits with Morrie felt like a cleansing rinse of human kindness,” wrote Mitch Albom, of his weekly 1994 conversations with his beloved Brandeis sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, as Schwartz’s body succumbed ALS.
The published account of these visits, described by Schwartz as “our last thesis together,” became a cultural phenomenon. More than 14 million copies were sold. ABC produced a TV movie adaptation starring Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon. And Albom was transformed from a moderately famous Detroit Free Press sports columnist to an Oprah-endorsed storytelling magnate. Twenty years after its publication, this tale of a teacher and student with a father/son-strength bond will still make you cry.
6. Pineapple Express (2008 film, David Gordon Green)
One could argue that Judd Apatow’s entire career has been one big Jewish buddy movie, starring a rotating cast of actors including Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Seth Rogen, James Franco, and Paul Rudd (whose family name was originally Rudnitzky). But for the sake of this list, we’re going with the Apatow-produced film that’s closest to a big-budget action flick. Of course, since it’s a Jewish big-budget action flick, “Pineapple Express” features a pot dealer named Saul who gets a ride to the hospital from his grandmother.
7. Broad City (2009-2011 web series; 2014-present TV series)
Last year, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer spoke with the Forward about bat mitzvahs and Birthright trips.
Now, they’re the subject of think pieces like “Girls vs. Broad City: Which Show Is Actually the ‘Voice of a Generation?” They’re on the cover of Bust magazine. And they’re paying homage to “Dumb and Dumber” with their wardrobe choices on Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
“Broad City” uses plenty of modern technology (smartphones, social media, video-chatting) in its pursuit of laughs. And yet its allure is as old as the buddy genre itself. When you watch the show, you wish you were one of their buddies, too.