‘Bad Shabbos’ Review: Kyra Sedgwick and Method Man Star in a Likable if Formulaic New York Jewish Comedy

As if their weekly shabbat gathering wasn’t already a reason for them to all start kvetching, imagine what happens when a Jewish family from Manhattan’s Upper West Side accidentally murders one of their dinner guests. Or when their future and very goy-ish in-laws try to pronounce the word “chutzpah.” Or when the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man shows up wearing a yarmulke.

These are some of the shandas (that’s Yiddish for scandals, disgraces, shames, etc.) in Bad Shabbos, an ensemble comedy set during one long and volatile Friday night get-together that leaves a body fresh on the ground and ready for shiva.

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Directed by Daniel Robbins (Pledge), who co-wrote the script with Zack Weiner, the film is rather familiar in conception and execution, even if it concentrates on the very narrow community of upper-class Manhattanites that most of us know from the films of Woody Allen. Some of Allen’s humor is on display here, though Bad Shabbos is more prone to narrative hijinks and a few over-the-top plot twists.

Off the bat, you have to accept the fact that the Gelfands, as they’re called, are willing to do anything to cover up the untimely death that suddenly occurs in their apartment, whereas simply calling the police and fessing up would have been the better option. But this is not your average family.

The mother, Ellen (Kyra Sedgwick), is a micromanaging, passive-aggressive control freak. The father, Richard (David Paymer), is a charming if soppy patriarch, and certainly the most Allen-esque character. The eldest son, David (Jon Bass), is for the most part calm and clearheaded, whereas his teenage brother, Adam (Theo Taplitz), is a neurodivergent shut-in with a major Klonopin dependance. Meanwhile, their sister, Abby (Milana Vayntrub), is in the midst of a breakup with d-baggy banker Benjamin (Ashley Zukerman), who shows up for shabbat with plenty of bad vibes.

Luckily, Benjamin quickly gets offed by Adam — who slips laxatives into his drink as a prank — in the film’s first 15 minutes, leaving the family to deal with the fallout. Afraid their youngest will be charged with murder, the clan hatches a plan to conceal the alleged crime, though they really have no idea what they’re doing. While all this is happening, David’s beloved fiancé, Meg (Meghan Leathers), who hails from Wisconsin and had decided to convert to Judaism, is on hand to witness the chaos. And her parents (John Bedford Lloyd, Catherine Curtin) are about to show up to join everyone for supper.

If you recall the scene in Annie Hall where the dinners between Allen’s Brooklyn family and Diane Keaton’s very WASP-ish Midwestern family are contrasted to perfect comic effect, you can imagine what happens when Meg’s family finally encounters the Gelfands. By this point in the story, Benjamin’s dead body has been lying on the bathroom floor for a few hours, with everyone freaking out and trying to find a way to get rid of it. They eventually decide to turn it into a “New York death,” whereby the banker’s corpse will be transplanted back to his apartment and hopefully discovered days later by a neighbor.

Totally unable to do this on their own, they enlist their friendly doorman Jordan (Cliff “Method Man” Smith), who claims to know how to handle any situation but seems way out of his league as well. Yet compared to the anxiety-ridden, prayer-spewing, Kosher-wine-slugging, constantly arguing Gelfands, Jordan comes across as a master of pragmatism. At one point, he even dons a kippah to pretend to Meg’s parents that he’s just another regular at this off-the-wall shabbat.

If you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear Method Man say: “It’s Shabbos, baby!” then this may be the movie for you.

Robbins and co-scribe Weiner previously collaborated on both horror and comedy flicks, including Pledge and Citizen Weiner. They know how to deliver a solid genre programmer and a few genuine laughs — especially a gag involving challah bread — but other parts of Bad Shabbos feel a bit too broad and formulaic, lacking a distinct voice.

The better bits tend to be Judaic-centric, such as the moment where the converting Meg refers to the Torah as a “prequel,” which is not the best thing to tell one’s future Jewish mother-in-law. Another gag involves the highly unstable Adam’s idolatry for the IDF — a joke that was clearly conceived before the current Israel-Hamas War.

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