AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Linc Leifeste | October 25, 2013
Director: Jason Chaet
Writers: Rick A. Moore, Jason Chaet
Starring: Jack Carpenter, Melanie Lynskey, John Pankow, Susie Essman, Jarlath Conroy, Armando Riesco, Allegra Cohen, Steve Park, Adrian Martinez, Fred Berman, Fran Kranz
Putzel is a film about the ties that bind, or in the case of title character Walter “Putzel” Himmelstein (Jack Carpenter), the ties that restrict, restrain and suffocate. Walter was born and raised in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and it’s where he spends every waking moment. His grandfather was the founder and longtime owner of Himmelstein’s House of Lox, which is now in the hands of Putzel’s uncle Sid (John Pankow). Putzel grew up around the salmon and bagels and expects to one day take over the family business. And while his heart isn’t really in it, it’s the only thing he knows and the one thing he sees as saving him from having to find work in a shoe store.
Putzel is a loveable loser, harmless but completely lacking in self-confidence and drive. He’s married but his wife Willa (Allegra Cohen) is brazenly having an affair with neighborhood tough Hector (Adrian Martinez) and wanting a divorce. He’s apparently got one friend in the world, Jake (Armando Riesco), an equally insecure but compensating blustery doctor. His life is Himmelstein’s and it’s the only future he sees. So when that future is threatened by his uncle’s plans to move to Arizona and sell the shop to a mystery bidder (so much for family coming first), Putzel has to act fast.
Then along comes Sally (Melanie Lynskey), a fetching 30-something dancer who works nearby at a neighborhood pub and really knows her salmon. She quickly catches Uncle Sid’s eye and soon his heart. After decades of marriage to his wife Gilda (Susie Essman), it seems he’s ready for something new, and Sally is enough to make him put his move to Arizona on hold. But the problem is, if Gilda finds out, she’ll seek a divorce and the shop will be sold. Putzel finds himself in the middle of this train wreck and to add to his troubles he soon finds himself falling for Sally. In the process, Putzel is forced to question the “blessing” of inheriting the family business,torn between the safe beauty of tradition, continuity and familiarity versus the lack of self-determination that comes along with unquestioningly following your prescribed path in life.
Featuring a stellar soundtrack, wonderful design and visuals, a talented cast, and a generally strong script, Putzel is one of those films that manages to effectively transport the viewer to another place. I don’t know how accurate its depiction of the Upper West Side is but I definitely felt like I’d been dropped right in the middle of it. All of that said, I was bothered by the unnecessary exaggerations of a couple of the characters, leaving me feeling the filmmakers were content to trade off plausibility for cheap laughs at times. While never less than entertaining, admittedly a major accomplishment, the film ultimately feels somewhat slight, especially with its obligatory wrap-up-all-the-loose-ties happy ending.