For someone whose first Hollywood feature film debuted this weekend, Bryan Fogel has disarmingly modest goals. “I hope to be able to make a film again, I hope people like it, and I hope I can pay my rent,” the 41-year-old from Denver says.
Considering he is on his fifteenth interview of the day, Fogel is remarkably upbeat and engaged. The writer/director of Jewtopia is at the end of a decade-long journey that started with a 10-minute scene at a one-act festival in Los Angeles and has culminated in a 90-minute film starring the likes of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jon Lovitz, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and numerous other actors whose names don’t begin with the letter “J.” It’s no surprise he is in such a good mood.
Fogel recalls that when he came up with the idea for what became Jewtopia, there was no thought of it being anything other than a way to increase his visibility as an actor in Hollywood. “But then the scene went over huge at this one-act festival. That scene became the play. People loved it and it became a hit. Then it went to New York and became a hit and spawned a bestselling book. Then came the movie, which is very loosely based on the play. It was an organic progression — each success built on itself,” he says.
The story of Jewtopia is an unabashedly politically incorrect one. A gentile named, appropriately enough, Christian, wants nothing more than to marry a Jewish woman so that he doesn’t ever have to make another decision in his life (this is actually one of the descriptors on the movie’s posters). Having met the girl of his dreams — a rabbi’s daughter no less — he enlists the help of Adam, a friend from elementary school and the only Jew he knows. Meanwhile, Adam is dealing with his own marriage-related issues, as he tries to overcome his fears of becoming a man and assuming the responsibility of ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people by marrying a second-generation gynecologist so obsessed with her not-yet-conceived child’s safety that she is having a panic room constructed in the nursery.
Parents of all religions are affectionately skewered in the film, and the film does play fast and loose with stereotypes of religion, culture and gender. There are some genuinely funny moments within the broad sketches, like when Adam gives Christian a crash course in acting Jewishly in a restaurant — ask to be moved away from the draft, ask for the music to be turned down, create your own entrée, etc.
Fogel is quick to say that the film is not at all autobiographical, even though it is drawn from his own Jewish life. “Everything in the movie comes from a love of who I am and my love of my family and culture — from how I was raised. It’s just great to have success by finding comedy in who you are.”
Opening Sept. 20
Playing at AMC Plymouth Meeting and other area theaters