The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick (G)
Caution: potential spoilers.
I thought this was a TV movie; certainly I only saw it on TV, and I never heard of it being released theatrically. It's a Canadian movie which I guess first opened there in 1989, and in the U.S. in 1990. There was a TV series called Max Glick, which aired in 1990, and which I think I saw before I ever saw this (though don't remember for sure). But anyway, I taped the movie whenever I saw it, and now, many years later (2012), I'm watching it so I can write a review. And in checking websites, I discovered that it wasn't a TV movie, after all. Oh yeah, and I should say it's based on a book, which I've never read.
It's about this 12-year-old Jewish boy named Maximilian Glick, who lives in the small town of Beausejour, Manitoba, along with his parents, Henry and Sarah, and his grandparents (or zayde and bubbe), Augustus and Bryna. The movie's set in the early 1960s, though I'm not sure of the exact year. Max narrates the film, so we get to hear his inner thoughts. He's rather funny, and it's easy to relate to him. He feels smothered by his family, who all have high hopes for him. He's also a bit apprehensive about his impending Bar Mitzvah. Also, he's been taking piano lessons for the last few years (from Mr. Blackthorn, played by Nigel Bennett, who's best known to me from Forever Knight). And there's a cute Christian girl named Celia Brzjinski (played by Fairuza Balk, whom I knew from "Return to Oz"), who also plays piano. I guess her family just recently moved to town. She comes in second to Max in a local competition, so her parents decide to replace her instructor with Mr. Blackthorn. And he decides to start training Max and Celia for the "four hands" segment of an upcoming major competition, where the prize is a scholarship of some kind.
Max and Celia quickly become friends (and potentially more, but that's unclear), but when Max's parents find out about her, they want him to stop seeing her (and stop practicing piano with her). This upsets him, because he thinks they're prejudiced against gentiles. Which maybe they kind of are, but they don't see it that way; mainly they're just concerned with preserving their Jewish identity. Max also thinks Rabbi Kaminsky wouldn't feel the way they do... but they tell him something disillusioning about the rabbi, and before Max can talk to him about it... Kaminsky dies. He's replaced by a new rabbi the synagogue's governing board or whatever hired without meeting or interviewing. When Rabbi Teitelman arrives in town, everyone's shocked to find that he's a Hasidic Jew. (Ironically, being so Orthodox is highly unorthodox, in a town like Beausejour.) Max has to start taking lessons with him to prepare for his Bar Mitzvah, but he finds that Teitelman is very different from Kaminsky, and he doesn't like the new rabbi, at first. However, the two of them soon get to be friends. And it turns out Teitelman always wanted to be a comedian. (He's definitely funny.) His style doesn't sit well with the board, however, who feel he's going to make things harder for the Jewish community in Beausejour (where they're a minority, and relations were apparently already a bit strained with gentiles, in spite of everyone in town doing their best to get along).
Oh um, before I forget, I wanted to mention that Teitelman is played by Saul Rubinek, who'd later become more familiar to me in Warehouse 13. While I'm at it, I should say that Augustus was played by Jan Rubes, whom I've surely seen in other things. And his wife, Susan Douglas Rubes, played Bryna. (I suppose I may have seen her in other stuff too, I'm not sure.) They both reprised their roles in the TV series, though pretty much all the other characters were recast. And... Augustus was on the board, along with another guy named Zelig Peikes (played by Howard Jerome, who I'm sure I must've seen in other stuff... including the Max Glick TV series).
Anyway... Max continues practicing with Celia, while lying to his family. Mr. Blackthorn and Rabbi Teitelman are both more understanding than Max's folks. (Blackthorn understands what he's going through, because he's an Englishman married to a Japanese woman. And Teitelman doesn't want Max giving up on his dreams, the way he himself basically gave up on his own dreams.) And eventually, Max and Celia go to Winnipeg to see a concert, and when it was over, they met up with Teitelman, who had just run into an old friend of his, who had recently joined a Klezmer band. So, Max and Celia hear Klezmer music for the first time. (I think this movie- or the series- was perhaps the first time I ever heard such music, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I like it.) But once they get back to Beausejour, the kids get in trouble with their families, who aren't pleased with Teitelman, either. And... basically, things get worse before they get better, but they do get better.
The narration turns out to have an explanation, which was kind of neat. But I don't really want to say how the movie ends. I'll just say... it's a fairly sweet and amusing movie, with good characters and good acting. It kind of feels like there's not really too much conflict... I mean, we never really see any indication that relations are strained among the town's different communities, it's more something we're informed of. (I kind of feel like certain characters such as Augustus are probably thinking as if things are still the way they used to be, sometime well before the movie.) And in spite of Max's disagreements with his family, there's never a sense that they don't all love one another. No one seems totally unreasonable, like people can in some movies, so it's hard to be passionate about the movie, but I did sympathize with Max in a moderate way. And it was a fairly fun and comfortable little movie, that's all.