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I loved the first scenes of Genevieve Adams’ SIMCHAS AND SORROWS so much that I worried what followed would have a hard time living up to it. In it, the heroine, Agnes, during her Catholic schoolgirl days, questions a nun about Jesus’ own religious upbringing, and how best to follow his example, considering he was Jewish.
I needn’t have worried. writer/director Adams, who also plays Agnes as an adult, has crafted a sweet and sharp film about love, an unplanned pregnancy, and the self-discovery that comes with religious conversion. Not to mention family dynamics and an astute comparison/contrast between faith and religion. It makes for a bracing and wildly entertaining film that isn’t afraid to challenge its audience almost as much as the story challenges Agnes, an atheist ex-Catholic who discovers that Judaism isn’t a homogenous monolith when she agrees to convert for her long-term boyfriend, Levi, to please his conservative Jewish parents.
It breaks so many rules of polite society, taking on politics, religion, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Palestine that it was, in fact, my first question to her when we spoke via Zoom on April 8, 2022.
We went on to talk about what people choose to worship; why Agnes might be the most Jewish person in the film, even before the conversion process starts; why she chose the rom-com format to make some cerebral points; and making a good story out of a true one.
We finished up with getting behind the camera as a director for the first time; getting homework from Hari Nef, who plays the infinitely wise and iconoclastic Rabbi Cohen; the genesis of salted quinoa straws; the choice to make a film that is provocative (but not polarizing); leaving your judgment at the door; and celebrating big personalities.
This is Adams’ feature film directorial debut, and it co-stars Thomas McDonell as Levi, Hari Nef as the rabbi overseeing Agnes’ conversion, and John Cullum as as the grandfather who raised her.