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Film & TV

What to watch after ‘Unorthodox’

It’s been a month and we’re still talking about “Unorthodox.” Well, “talking” may be too tame a word. Debating, analyzing, nitpicking and making valid, important points about the series’ merits and potential harms. And while there’s much that remains to be said about the Netflix show (several million Jews, who knows how many opinions), there are only four episodes. They left us wanting more.

Well, we have some. If you are looking for more stories about Haredi men and women who break with norms, there’s no shortage of content. Here are some of our picks.

1.“The Chosen” (1981)

How to watch: Tubi or Amazon Prime

Based on the classic novel by Chaim Potok, the film explores the cultural divide and ideological collisions between friends Danny and Reuven. While Reuven, who hails from a Modern Orthodox family, finds his calling in Zionism, Danny rejects the call to be his rabbi father’s heir in order to study psychology. Toss in Rod Steiger as a rebbe and you have an instant classic of off-the-derech material.

2. “Felix and Meira” (2014)

How to watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play, iTunes

Set in Montreal, this atmospheric romance plays out between an unhappy wife and mother and a French-Canadian atheist. The two misfits slowly reveal themselves, confiding in one another and — together — finding the push they need to let go of their loneliness. This one is in French, English and Yiddish, a rare trifecta.

3. “A Price Above Rubies” (1998)

How to watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, HBO Now, Google Play, iTunes

If you thought casting Renée Zellweger as the British Bridget Jones was weird, wait’ll you check out her turn as a Haredi woman. Unfulfilled with her sex life with husband Mendel (an actor named Glenn Fitzgerald — really) she slowly breaks away from Hasidism with such indiscretions as eating a non-kosher egg roll, trying to kiss her sister-in-law and getting involved with other men. This film is not very good, is lacking in some serious verisimilitude and rife with myths about Hasidic sex, but it is pretty entertaining because of its shortcomings.

4. “Mendy: A Question of Faith” (2003)

How to watch: Amazon Prime

In this coming of age drama, a cast of ex-Hasids sample the various sins Manhattan has to offer. With drugs, sex, and Yiddish think of it as Moishe’s origin story — before his return to the fold.

5. “The Other Story” (2018)

How to watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play

This Israeli drama is the bizzaro “Unorthodox,” telling the story of a rebellious young woman, Anat, from a secular family who becomes Orthodox to marry her fiance, a musician who entered Yeshiva to cope with his drug addiction. Anat’s mother doesn’t approve of the match and enlists her ex-husband, psychologist Yonatan, to persuade her to ditch the frum. But when Yonatan needs Anat’s help settling a peculiar child custody dispute, the two gain new perspectives on each other’s lives.

6. “Hester Street” (1975)

How to watch: Amazon Prime

This black-and-white film about a clash of new and old world culture, based on Forward founding editor Ab Cahan’s novel “Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto,” highlights an unassuming young bride’s bold agency in an unfamiliar milieu. So, if you like “Unorthodox,” you’ll probably dig it. Arriving in America, Gitl (Carol Kane) finds her husband Yankle aka Jake (Steven Keats) having made a quick transition from greenhorn to Yankee. He abuses Gitl for her slow assimilation and desire to hold on to traditions. But Gitl wins out in the end, finding her own happy balance of Jewish ritual, Americanism and freedom from her insufferable ex-husband. Big ups for Doris Roberts in this one, too, especially when she says “You can’t pee up my back and make me think it’s rain.”

Correction April 29, 2020 8:19 PM: A previous version of this article stated there were six episodes of “Unorthodox.” There are four.

PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at [email protected].


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