June 15th, 2022
STARRING: SASSON GABAY, RITA SHUKRUN, LIOR ASHKENAZI
DIRECTED BY: MOSHE ROSENTHAL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Remember in high school when you met that cool charismatic person who had all the qualities you wish you had? It’s a feeling I vividly remember. Such people thrill us, inspire us, and can sometimes let us down because we put them on a high pedestal. Now, imagine it happening in your 60s. Some would say that’s not possible and those people would be wrong. In director Moshe Rosenthal’s newest film Karaoke, he puts that exercise to the test, where an older married couple finds vitality in a new and unexpected friend, making them feel just like high school kids again.
The premise of Karaoke is straight forward: a sixty something couple live a comfortable and quiet life for decades. Meir (Sasson Gabay) and Tova (Rita Skukrun) are the kind of couple who lost the spark within their marriage long ago. Whatever was once there is long buried. They live in a high rise in suburban Tel Aviv with a beautiful view of the other buildings which surround them; But one night they are invited to the penthouse apartment of a new tenant named Itzik (Lior Ashkenazi). They are both immediately drawn and smitten by him. He’s got great hair, clothes, furnishings, a great personality, and a zest for life that they can only dream of having. Rather quickly, Itzik begins to tap into and encourage all of their hidden dreams and desires.
The once droopy-looking Meir starts dying his hair and wears his best shirt. Tova brings out her most elegant outfit and shoes. New details start to emerge about who these people were. We find out that Meir wanted to be an actor when he was younger. Tova had dreams of dancing. Now Itzik gives them both chances to shine. They feel special and alive. That is until Itzik’s begins showing attention to other neighbors and maybe this new found friendship is just a fleeting fantasy.
The majority of Karaoke is relatable because we’ve all been there at various stages in our lives. We want to hold on to that new friend, someone who has tapped something in us, woken us up and we don’t want to share them. That inevitable jealousy for Meir and Tova leads to a lot of tension, but also a chance for real growth, and the audience delightfully grows with them.
Writer/Director Moshe Rosenthal has said that he patterned the couple after his own parents but also drew from his own experiences in high school. He has a strong sense of character, including Itzik, whose motivations are a bit of a mystery. What does he get out of this? He’s definitely rich but also lonely. He needs to be the center of attention. Again, haven’t we all met people like this? That’s why this Israeli film has such universal appeal. The characters are real and their yearnings are relatable. Sure, Itzik drives a Maserati and lives on two continents but he represents that high achieving, a bit narcissistic, type of figure that many people are drawn to. (Think of our world leaders of late and how easy it is for people to become so enamored with their power and ideas.) The purple lights leading to his golden door signal what a “royal” figure Itzik thinks himself as and how he wants others to view him.
Rosenthal’s script is classical, with all of the elements of an old Hollywood narrative, leading to the inevitable climax. But none of it feels over-written or cliché. We can believe everything Meir and Tova are experiencing because we’ve seen it happen in real life. They’re striving to express what lies within, while also searching for a balance with authenticity. Itzik’s life is exciting but also a bit superficial.
The pacing of the film is never rushed and the performances are carefully nuanced. Rita Shukrun’s performance as Tova is appropriately naïve and adventurous. She’s not stunning-looking but can easily pull off the touch of elegance Tova strives for. At the start of the film Sasson Babay, as Meir, looks and feels like a sad sap (think of an older version of C.C. Baxter in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment or Lester Burnham in American Beauty) but slowly and without much notice he blossoms before our eyes. Lior Ashkenazi as Itzik is big, charismatic, and sexy enough to make us see why everyone would want to be friends with him.
The tone of Karaoke is light with the right amount of drama to make each character’s growth or setbacks feel earned. I found myself ingrained into each of these lives – for better or worse- appreciating them for their flaws or vicariously wanting to walk in their shoes, even if just for a moment. We’re always searching for that same good feeling in the past or sometimes high school just never ends…
KARAOKE IS CURRENTLY STREAMING VIA TRIBECA AT HOME. FOR TICKETS AND A LINK GO TO: https://tribecafilm.com/films/karaoke-2022.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Dan Pal