GO FOR ZUCKERNR
An enormous hit when it was released in Europe last year, Dani Levy's lively comedy of errors, Go for Zucker, treats its story of a fractured family that has to learn how to get along as a larger metaphor for a reunified Germany. When his mother and brother Samuel fled to the West before the Berlin Wall went up, Jakob Zuckerman (Henry Hübchen) opted to stay behind in the East, eventually becoming a famous sports announcer known as Jaeckie Zucker. Ever since reunification, though, the former star has fallen on hard times. These days, he barely ekes out a living as a pool shark and is in danger of being thrown in jail if he doesn't pay off his massive debts. Zucker's home life isn't any better; his long-suffering wife Marlene (Hannelore Elsner) wants a divorce and their two grown children Thomas (Steffen Groth) and Jana (Anja Franke) barely speak to him.
Zucker hopes to solve his various woes by entering a pool tournament that carries a jackpot of 100,000 euros. But his plans are foiled by the arrival of a telegram from Samuel (Udo Samel) informing him that their mother has died and he will be bringing her body back to Berlin for burial. This is the first time that the estranged brothers have spoken to each other in over 40 years and they start bickering right off the bat. Samuel, who has become on Orthodox Jew, is furious with his brother's socialist past and Jakob in turn considers him a pious bore. No doubt foreseeing this, their mother left specific instructions in her will that her sons could only claim their inheritance if they agreed to obey a strict set of rules. First, they have to follow the proper procedure for an Orthodox funeral, including sitting shiva for seven days. During this time, Jakob and Samuel must resolve their differences once and for all. If they fail to make up, the money goes to Mom's synagogue.
After a slow start, Go for Zucker builds up a head of comic steam when Samuel and his family arrive in Berlin. While the decidedly non-religious Marlene frantically attempts to learn the ins and outs of Orthodox Judaism to impress her in-laws, Zucker keeps devising ways to ditch his shiva responsibilities for the pool tournament without anyone catching on. This leads to scenes like the one where he fakes a heart attack and then attempts to sneak out of the hospital while his distraught wife paces in the waiting room. For the most part, however, Levy avoids broad gags in favor of character-based humor. Every family member has his or her own quirks (Thomas is nervous around women, Samuel's wife Golda is a bit of a busybody), which are only exacerbated by being in such close proximity to one another. It's also clear that the rift between the brothers is intended to parallel the rift between the two Germanys. Much to Samuel's scorn, Jakob is still skeptical of capitalism and feels out of place in this unified country.
One thing the film sadly doesn't explore in any great detail is the experience of being a Jew in modern-day Germany. Aside from a brief exchange with a taxi driver who asks Samuel and Jakob where their mother hid from the Nazis, the war is never referenced and religion isn't discussed by anyone outside the family. Of course, adding that sort of material would have made Go for Zucker a very different movie. Levy seems to have conceived the film as a light comedy and on that level, it's mostly successful. The cast is funny and the script is sharply written, although there are a few situations that turn out to be comic dead ends. (There's also one major subplot, involving Jana and her cousin Joseph, that's more creepy than funny.) Along with last year's Israeli comedy Ushpizin, Go for Zucker shows that Hollywood no longer corners the market on Jewish humor.