|Directed by:||Debra Kirschner||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2004||Running Time:||85 mins.|
|More Info:||Film's Official Site||Category:||Feature Film|
With an all-star cast including Tovah Feldshuh, The Tollbooth is the critically-acclaimed, coming-of-age story about a young artist struggling to forge her own identity in the big city — while her Jewish parents keep watch from just over the bridge in Brooklyn.
“I’ve never been that popular,” says Sarabeth Cohen, “and now that I’m grown up and a feminist artist, I’m even less popular.”
Fresh out of art school, Sarabeth (MARLA SOKOLOFF) gets a job as a waitress and begins her struggle as a New York City artist. Angsty and cynical, she doesn’t have much patience for her family — a nagging mother (TOVA FELDSHUH), a father (RONALD GUTTMAN) who is always misquoting Kafka, one sister who just got pregnant with her sweet but dopey husband, and another sister who is ‘perfect’ until she announces she’s a lesbian at Rosh Hashanah dinner. And then there’s her boyfriend Simon (ROB MCELHENNEY), whose choice to live in the suburbs with a great sound system, instead of in hip and unpredictable New York, has given Sarabeth doubts about their future together. Thank God she has her canvas to escape to, where she can make sense of it all.
A smart coming-of-age film, The Tollbooth tackles serious Jewish issues as they present themselves to a politically-liberal, anti-traditional, feminist post-graduate. As frustrated as Sarabeth is that she grew up being constantly reminded of relatives who died in the Holocaust, and no matter how much she hates going to synagogue, the truth is that she’s Jewish and she will always be Jewish. The struggle to escape her roots is impossible, so she’s forced to integrate a 5,000 year old religion into her modern life.
This epiphany comes to Sarabeth when she finds herself feeling out of place at a 4th of July barbecue. Amidst pastel colors and fire works, the little-black-dress-wearing, wine-instead-of-beer-drinking, daughter-of-an-anti-patriot feels like a sore thumb. But when she overhears one of the party’s guests make an anti-Semitic comment, she realizes she doesn’t want to fit it in to this crowd, and that she is proud of her heritage.
Anyone who hasn’t been young and poor in New York City will think the film’s dialog is funny, while anyone who has been young and poor in New York will realize it’s truthful. When Sarabeth tells her waitress friend that she’s moving into a walk-in closet, they tell her she should be grateful because at least she’ll have a door. “I haven’t had a door since I moved to New York,” one girl says, “I live in a studio with six other dancers.”
The Tollbooth also gets something right about the New York City art scene. As a waitress, Sarabeth says, “All the artists I’m working with have been pursuing their careers for 5-10 years” — while they continue to wait tables. Sarabeth is having a hard time with her own art, too. Galleries couldn’t care less about her, and the professor who promised to help her make connections won’t return her calls. “Cynicism never goes out of style,” one gallery owner tells her, “you just have to keep up with what it’s hip to be cynical about.” Apparently, Sarabeth’s cynicism is out-of-date.
But a career isn’t the only thing that plagues a young woman setting out on her life: Sarabeth’s boyfriend can be just as stressful. When Simon suggests that she move in with him in the suburbs, she’s enticed by the thought of paying less rent; but how could she leave the city?!
At that pivotal moment, when she feels like she’s deciding the rest of her life, Sarabeth hears the famously wise words of the Jewish sage Hillel — “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” — and remembers her mother’s oft-repeated advice: “When you’re trying to make a decision go with your stomach, not your heart—do whatever makes you less sick to your stomach.”
Armed with the combined wisdom of her Jewish heritage and her family, Sarabeth is ready to forge ahead, making her own decisions and living her life the best she can, in her own way.