Seth Fisher's Debut Feature: Blumenthal
Celebrated playwright, Harold Blumenthal, has passed away after succumbing to cardiac arrest while laughing at his own joke. Now, Harold’s estranged and jealous brother, Saul, must confront his personal hang-ups to deliver himself from an epic bout of constipation. Meanwhile, Saul’s wife Cheryl and son Ethan must grapple with their own personal obstacles through a set of circumstances so improbably ironic they might as well have been lifted from one of Harold’s plays.Blumenthal
Mark Blum - Saul Blumenthal
Laila Robins - Cheryl Blumenthal
Seth Fisher - Ethan Blumenthal
Mei Melançon - Christina
Alexander Cendese - Isaac
Nicole Ansari - Fiona<
Kevin Isola - Lee
with Fred Melamed - Jimmy Basmati
and Brian Cox - Harold Blumenthal
The Crew & Production
Opens March 28, 2014 (GoDigital)
Production: Gone Fishing Pictures, Act Zero Films
Cast: Seth Fisher, Brian Cox, Fred Melamed, Laila Robins, Mark Blum, Mei Melancon
Director-screenwriter: Seth Fisher
Producers: Alexander Cendese, Garrett P. Fennelly, Jean-Raphael Ambron, Jesse Ozeri, Zak Mulligan
Executive producers: Jason Ludman, James Baron, David McWhinnie
Director of photography: Zak Mulligan
Editors: Seth Fisher, Alex Kopit
Production designer: Marie Lynn Wagner
Costume designer: David Tabbert
Composer: Noah and the Megafauna
Not rated / Runtime: 1 hr. 26 min.
TomatoMeter Critics: 50% Audience 71%
Chicago Reader June 19, 2014
Fisher is a fine actor, but his movie is entirely derivative.
85 minutes · 2013
This tetchy comedy-drama (2013) details the neuroses of an upper-class Jewish family in New York. There's a self-absorbed pharmaceutical executive (writer-director Seth Fisher); his uncle, an award-winning playwright who dies while laughing at his own joke (Brian Cox); his father (Mark Blum), who's enduring an existential crisis; his on-again-off-again shiksa girlfriend (Mei Melancon), who might be pregnant; and his actress stepmom (Leila Robins), who's considering both plastic surgery and an affair with her gay dog walker. Fisher is a fine actor, but his movie is entirely derivative, a lazy mix of Wes Anderson's camera movements, Woody Allen's themes, and James L. Brooks's grandiloquent dialogue. Cox is pretty amusing as the uncle, seen periodically in excerpts from a Charlie Rose-type interview show that turn him into a one-man Greek chorus.
By Drew Hunt
Boston Globe March 31, 2014
Not all of Fisher's debut feature works, but when it does the results are lacerating, hilarious, and surprisingly forgiving.
The Playlist March 28, 2014
Heralding the arrival of Seth Fisher as a voice to watch, Blumenthal is much like its characters: a frankly funny and original piece of work.
Original Score: B+
“Blumenthal” is a film about three Blumenthals. There’s Harold (Brian Cox), the famous playwright who died laughing at his own joke. There’s his brother, Saul (Mark Blum), an English professor who feels entitled to a bit of Harold’s success and has had some issues, ahem, not letting things… go. And there’s Saul’s son, Ethan (Seth Fisher), a pharmaceutical rep who’s obsessed with finding the perfect fit. He wears nurse’s shoes and can’t stand his girlfriend Christina’s (Mei Melancon) sloppy eating. At the beginning of this tale of three Blumenthals, Saul is sitting shiva for Harold, and Ethan has just dumped Christina. We also can’t forget Saul’s wife, Cheryl (Laila Robins), an actress assessing her age and her career in the wake of Harold’s death. All of our Blumenthals, in their own analytical/intellectual ways, are reeling out of control, trying to exert mind over (bodily) matter and failing miserably.
Written and directed by and starring Seth Fisher, a theater actor making his filmmaking debut, “Blumenthal” signals the arrival of a fresh new voice, one that is distinctly Fisher’s own. The best part of the film is the crackerjack script—it’s fast, funny, fierce, multilayered and loaded with double meaning. Even the small talk over coffee will make you go, “hmm.” All of the moving parts fit together with a click; it’s ironic that Ethan hawks birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy for women, but the one thing in the world he can’t control are the women (and their bodies) in his life.
Saul is also dealing with bodily issues, and once he gains a bit of closure and release from Harold’s mysterious, alluring lover Fiona (Nicole Ansari), he’s finally able to release what he’s been holding onto (in more ways than one). Even Cheryl seeks a consultation from a plastic surgeon in an attempt to exert some control over the body that she no longer seems to recognize (who knew all she needed was a consultation from the dog walker?). All of these themes and moments fit together and find satisfying resolution within the script, building upon themselves in layers upon layers. The framing device of Harold’s Charlie Rose interview works to remind us of his looming presence in their lives; of how they can’t escape him, and they can’t escape themselves.
Where the script really hits its stride is when Ethan talks about himself, usually with his friend Isaac (Alexander Cendese), a fellow drug rep. The quips and non-sequiturs and neologisms fly fast and furious out of Fisher’s mouth, who portrays Ethan as a bit of an automaton, but not one without warmth. Many will compare him to Woody Allen because of the setting and characters and neurotic self-obsession, but Ethan would not approve of Woody’s messy flailing about. He’s profoundly OCD, and at first, a bit of a jerk, but his self-awareness warms you to him as well as his ability to change. He’s not unsympathetic, as seen in his relationship with his father and stepmother, but he’s a unique character, in all of his quirks and foibles. It’s very hard to put forth an unlikable protagonist, but Fisher smartly contrasts Ethan within his environment. This is not a world where Ethan’s behavior is valorized, and in seeing this, the audience, confronted with his misanthropic qualities, can enjoy watching him try to be himself in this world that clearly finds him a bit of an odd, yet lovable duck, too.
There are some issues with the pace of the film. The scenario with Fiona takes on a bit of a mystery feel to it initially, but that doesn’t get going quickly enough and is too easily resolved, leading the audience down one path only to pull the rug out without much fanfare. Every scene is so measured and controlled that it falls into a distinct repetitive lulling rhythm that could stand to be broken up more often than it is. When it does open up, such as when Ethan dashes through the streets of Chinatown, it’s an exhilarating breath of fresh energy and air.
It would be a crime not to mention the fantastic score by Noah and the Megafauna, a Los Angeles-based ensemble, also featured in Judd Apatow’s “This is 40.” Their modern take on gypsy guitar-based jazz is a great addition to the film, bringing that traditional Eastern European sound with a new twist to the material, and it fits in brilliantly. In fact, its new twist on traditional material is a great metaphor for the film itself, as “Blumenthal” treads familiar ground in new and fresh ways. Heralding the arrival of Seth Fisher as a voice to watch, “Blumenthal” is much like its characters: a frankly funny and original piece of work. [B+]
Variety March 28, 2014
A limp facsimile of a Woody Allen ensembler set in a familiar world of New York Jewish intellectuals - minus only the wit, and the intellect.
Blumenthal: Film Review
3/26/2014 by Frank Scheck
Seth Fisher's debut feature depicts the personal travails of the family members of a deceased renowned playwright.
It’s appropriate that the deceased title character of Blumenthal is described as having died laughing at his own joke. The same could well be said of this debut feature by director-writer-star Seth Fisher, which too often suffers from a smug satisfaction over its purposefully deadpan humor. Reminiscent of the films of the '70s in which actors like George Segal and Elliott Gould played endlessly neurotic Jewish characters, this effort offers some mild amusement but lacks the anarchic wit to make it anything more than a slight diversion.
Brian Cox plays successful playwright Harold Blumenthal, who is seen only in clips from a Charlie Rose-style interview show in which he discusses his life and career. While his presence looms over the proceedings -- not surprising, considering Cox’s estimable screen charisma -- the story revolves around the personal turmoil of Blumenthal's remaining family members.
They include his estranged sibling, Saul (Mark Blum), whose perception that his brother plagiarized his life as inspiration for his plays has resulted in an angry jealousy that manifests itself as severe constipation; Saul’s second wife, Cheryl (Laila Robins), an actress who used to star in Harold’s plays and is attempting to resume her career only to be plagued by doubts about her aging appearance; and Saul’s son, Ethan (Fisher), a pharmaceutical sales rep with relationship issues who early on dumps his acupuncturist girlfriend (Mei Melancon).
Bogged down in silly attempts at symbolism -- Ethan hawks birth control pills and hormone replacements but seems to have no understanding of the women in his life, and ill-fitting footwear is a running motif -- the film is a quirky study of mostly unappealing characters whose travails feel cliche ridden. Each one eventually manages to find some sort of peace -- Cheryl, who wrestles with the idea of plastic surgery, regains her self-confidence via a make-out session with her gay dog walker (Kevin Isola); Saul overcomes both his emotional and physical blockages after meeting Harold’s mysterious lover (Nicole Ansari), who reveals a secret about his writing; and Ethan, with the helpful advice of his best friend (Alexander Cendese), manages to overcome his relationship issues.
Despite some reasonably funny one-liners, the film never manages to develop a sustained comic rhythm, succumbing to such familiar rom-com devices as when Ethan frantically runs through the streets of New York to reconnect with his girlfriend.
The director-star, making the admittedly brave choice of playing an unlikable character, is unable to make us care about him despite his foibles; theater pros Blum and Robins do the best they can with their tired material; and Fred Melamed has some amusing moments as Blumenthal’s sardonic agent. One winds up waiting impatiently for Cox’s recurring brief appearances, indicating that Blumenthal might have been far more effective if it had featured more of Blumenthal himself.
Chief Film Critic Variety
Whenever Brian Cox isn't onscreen, 'Blumenthal' is a New York Jewish intellectual comedy conspicuously lacking in wit or intellect.
The playwright Harold Blumenthal is already dead at the start of “Blumenthal,” and so, for the most part, is the movie, a limp facsimile of a Woody Allen ensembler set in a familiar world of New York Jewish intellectuals — minus only the wit, and the intellect. An extended cameo by Brian Cox as the eponymous scribe proves a mildly amusing balm in this otherwise resoundingly unfunny affair designed as a showcase for writer-director-star Seth Fisher, whose comic gifts remain well hidden even after the end credits have rolled. Following an undistinguished fest run in 2013, the pic opens in limited theatrical release this weekend with VOD soon to follow.
Cox, who gave one of his most memorable screen performances as the real-life screenwriting guru Robert McKee in Spike Jonze’s “Adaptation,” doesn’t strike one as particularly Semitic, but otherwise makes a good fit for the role of the Neil Simon-ish Blumenthal (sample play title: “Born Again Shiksa”), who keels over while laughing at one of his own jokes during his latest opening night. For the rest of the film, Blumenthal is seen only in excerpts from a “Charlie Rose”-style TV interview, clearly in thrall to his own pompous bloviations as he takes questions from an offscreen interviewer (Bill Sage).
The movie means to be about how Blumenthal’s death ripples through the lives of his friends and family — none of whom, it seems, knew him all that well or liked him very much. They include his estranged college-professor brother, Saul (Mark Blum), who hasn’t forgiven Harold for lifting large chunks of his plays directly from Saul’s own published memoirs; Saul’s wife, Cheryl (Laila Robins), who got her break in Harold’s plays and hasn’t had a good part in years; and their son Ethan (Fisher), a pharma rep with a slew of intimacy and commitment issues. Ethan also can’t quite manage to find a comfortable pair of shoes — which, as the movie’s running gags go, places slightly higher than the one about Saul’s post-traumatic constipation.