“The Last 5 Years,” a movie based on the off-Broadway musical, debuted this Valentine’s Day. Thanks to my love of musical theater (with or without subversive Jewish subtext)–and my parents watching the kids–my husband and I were able to see it opening weekend.
It’s quite good. Anna Kendrick, who most know from “Twilight,” “Up in the Air,” or “Pitch Perfect,” first blew me away when she was 12 years old and a Tony nominee for “High Society.” Jeremy Jordan, who was Tony-nominated for “Newsies” (and completely wasted on TV’s “Smash”), is the ultimate triple-threat: He sings, he dances, he acts, plus he’s handsome and charming and marinates beatifically in his own charisma. It’s a shame the big budget movie musical era is no more, because Jordan could have been another Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.
The movie’s conceit is that it sings through five years of a turbulent relationship, except the hero tells his story forwards, and the heroine tells hers backwards. As a result, it opens with Cathy (Kendrick) reading Jamie’s Dear Jane letter, while Jamie (Jordan) is remembering their first night together.
And that’s the scene that makes me qualify my answer to the question of “How was the movie?” with “It’s quite good. But….”
The song Jamie sings to Cathy as they come barreling through her apartment door, frantically making out and tearing each other’s clothes off (while remaining perfectly on key) is called “Shiksa Goddess,” wherein Jamie explains that he’s breaking his Jewish mother’s heart by being with Cathy, but he doesn’t care, because Cathy is so awesome.
And how precisely is Cathy awesome, you might ask? I’ll let the lyrics answer that question for you:
Just as long as you’re not from Hebrew school—
I’d say “Now I’m getting somewhere!
I’m finally breaking through!”
I’d say “Hey! Hey! Shiksa goddess!
I’ve been waiting for someone like you.”
I’ve been waiting through Danica Schwartz and Erica Weiss
And the Handelman twins.
I’ve been waiting through Heather Greenblatt, Annie Mincus,
Karen Pincus and Lisa Katz.
And Stacy Rosen, Ellen Kaplan,
Julie Silber and Janie Stein.
I’ve had Shabbos dinners on Friday nights
With ev’ry Shapiro in Washington Heights.
(Each of the above named girls is then briefly offered up on screen as an example of a particular Jewish cliché.)
It was at this point that my (non-Jewish) husband leaned over to me and whispered, “That’s pretty offensive, isn’t it?”
Later, my husband elaborated, “It was obvious their relationship had no future when the very first love song he sings her is about all the things she isn’t, rather than all the things she is.”
Not things. Just one thing. Think of it as “The Last 5 Years”… and the Jewish Problem.
Did I find it offensive as a Jewish woman? I did. But also as merely a woman, and as a human being, in general.
There are those who would find it hypocritical of me. After all, as I noted above, I’m married to a non-Jew myself. But I married him because of who he is. Not because of who he isn’t.
Ever since he and I have been together, I am regularly accosted by women about 15-20 years older than me, who all want to tell me about the African American boyfriend they had in college, but their parents didn’t approve so they broke off the relationship, while women closer to my age surreptitiously confide, “I’m into Black guys, too.”
I am not “into Black guys.” I’m into my husband. In fact, he was the first non-Jew I’d dated in about a decade. By conscious choice. I was even seeing a (very) nice Jewish boy when we met. But the connection between my husband and I was too strong. I didn’t make the decision to be with him lightly. And I didn’t make it because, as Jamie sings:
I’m breaking my mother’s heart.
The JCC of Spring Valley is shaking
And crumbling to the ground,
And my grandfather’s rolling,
Rolling in his grave.
Despite my own life choices, I would still prefer it if my children married Jews (yes, yes, I know, more hypocrisy).
Why? Because, for one thing, not every non-Jew will necessarily be like their father and agree to raise their children Jewish, host a Passover seder, give up a Christmas tree, attend Tot Shabbat, pay for Jewish Day School, and sit in temple knowing that congregants are looking at him and wondering what the story is here. (For the record, I know some people find it extremely offensive and to each their own but, when it comes to our family, if you’re curious, feel free to ask what our story is, and we’ll happily tell you. I prefer to teach my kids to accept strangers’ questions, rude though they sometimes may be, as expressions of genuine curiosity and an honest eagerness to learn, rather than the insensitive disturbance other interracial families I know see it as.)
I would like my children to marry someone Jewish to increase the odds of them continuing the traditions they were raised with. (Though it’s no guarantee of anything. I know couples where both parents are Jewish who aren’t nearly as committed to raising their kids Jewish as my husband is. Once again, to each their own.)
But, even if they don’t marry other Jews, I would really, really prefer that they choose their spouses, of whatever religion, race, ethnicity, gender, etc., for the right reasons. I hope they will select a partner based on their intelligence, on their sense of humor, on their kindness, on their passions, their career, their hobbies, heck, even how much money they make is still a better reason than because their name isn’t Stein or Weiss or Shapiro.
I married my husband based on who he was as an individual. Which was exactly the reason I didn’t marry any of the Jews I’d dated before him. (This despite my earlier generalization regarding (some) Soviet Jewish men like Gary Shteyngart.)
Hey, maybe that’s why we’ve managed to last longer than Jamie and Cathy’s (mostly miserable) last five years!
Watch the trailer: