[Sundance 2024] BETWEEN THE TEMPLES -- Awkward Comedy Features Great Performances by Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane
Review by Sean Boelman
Sometimes, the best humor comes from situations that are incredibly uncomfortable to watch. With turns from Jason Schwartzman and Carol Kane that rank among the best work of both their illustrious careers, Between the Temples is a cringe comedy that gets a lot of laughs, but never loses sight of its emotional core.
The film follows a recently widowed cantor in a Jewish temple experiencing a crisis of faith who has an unexpected change in perspective on life when his music teacher from grade school enrolls in his bat mitzvah class. Silver and C. Mason Wells’s script has quite a few elements we have seen before, but not exactly in this combination, making the film feel pretty refreshing.
At first, Silver’s decision to shoot the film on 16mm feels slightly off-putting. It gives the film (what seems to be) a needlessly retro vibe, contrasting with some of the more modern elements of the story and humor, such as mentions of Jdate. However, in the final act, when sweetness gives way to anxiety, the aesthetic choices begin to make a lot more sense.
For the first hour or so of the film, it moves along leisurely, taking several tangents that seem only to delay the inevitable. Although the film threatens to go entirely off-course a few times, it’s easy to be drawn back in by its lighthearted charm — that is, until the time bomb finally explodes in a hilarious climax that is one of the funniest scenes you will see all year.
Whether or not you find Between the Temples enjoyable will depend on how funny you find cringe comedy. The first two-thirds have a good laugh here or there with an uncomfortable situation, but in the final thirty minutes, if you find awkwardness funny, you’ll laugh incredibly hard while covering your eyes out of secondhand embarrassment.
Jason Schwartzman has hardly been better than he is here. Thanks to his work with Wes Anderson, cinephiles are probably most used to seeing deadpan-style humor from the character actor. And last year’s Anderson film, Asteroid City, allowed him to tap into his more vulnerable side. In Between the Temples, Schwartzman shows that vulnerability while also showcasing a more oafish type of humor than usual — and yet, he’s as charming as always.
Carol Kane is so well-cast in the film that it feels like the role was almost written for her. She’s the epitome of lovable, but she also has the quality of a live wire that this role calls for. The one casting that feels a little off is Dolly De Leon, who feels entirely underused in a role that doesn’t have much humor or screen time.
For much of its runtime, Between the Temples is a charming and funny little film, but in the third act, it turns into something gut-bustingly hilarious. Offering both humor and heart in spades, Nathan Silver’s latest is a can’t-miss — so long as you have a stomach for incredibly awkward situations.
Between the Temples screened at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, which ran January 18-28 in-person in Park City, UT and online from January 25-28.