“No, he hit some stone and water dribbled out”
When a film chock-full of cutthroat verbal sparring and an amoral amount of profanity dealing with the perverse idea that one religion is somehow better than the next for no other reason than it being the character’s own affiliation has you thinking it could have gone even further in its satirical bent, you know it’s done something right. So comfortable in its use of offensive material to show two parents—a Jewish mother (Rachel Lynn Jackson) and a Catholic father (Timothy J. Cox)—attempting to sway their twelve-year old son Mikey (Max Abe Plush) into drinking their respective Kool-Aid, Choosing Sides might be funny enough to make the Pope crack a smile. Well, maybe that’s a bit too hyperbolic.
Written by Yael Green and directed by Lee Loechler, the film takes place entirely at the dinner table as family conversation time quickly turns into a pissing contest to actively brainwash a child. Nothing is held sacred whether it’s monetary bribes, flippant remarks about sexual abuse, or the arduous task of learning text as archaic as the Torah to be considered Bar Mitzvah-ready. The back and forth escalates out-of-control until even the boy has had enough. And while the obvious conclusion to me—which speaks more to my penchant for warped humor completely devoid of decency—was Mikey casually dropping the news that he was going to become a Muslim and join the Taliban, a similar yet infinitely more appropriate end is met.
Green injects the inevitable “enemy of my enemy is my friend” realization as religion becomes rightfully marginalized into a label bought and sold like any other. As churches/synagogues/mosques turn their eyes towards becoming successful businesses rather than houses of worship for a lost flock to join together in a faith-based society of good-will and better karma—well, some could argue the Catholic Church was always a bit greedy and two-faced on the whole “eye for an eye” thing—spirituality has evolution into a warped, consumerist demographic for manipulation and exploitation. The sad thing is, however, that even one religion homes find themselves using holidays and gifts to butter up their kids and hopefully not wake up one morning with an atheist on their hands.
It’s a horrible reality that Green’s viciously barbed script can’t help but expose as the ugly creature so many try to hide beneath miracles, forgiveness, and a smile. The characters here brush off their blatant volatility and superiority complexes as joke, but the truth of the matter is that to many of us those blemishes are synonymous with the concept of religion as a whole. While this interpretation may just be the ramblings of an agnostic who can’t bring himself to see past the horrors that have been done in “God’s name” no matter how many times faith has “saved” those around him, I can’t believe such a thought isn’t also at least sitting in the backs of everyone’s mind involved onscreen.
Whether a send-up to the misappropriation of religion or the subject itself, Choosing Sides will strike a nerve in all who watch. It may be stagey and Plush may lack more naturalism than the piece already does, but fruitful ideas are present. The humor is palpable when Jackson and Cox get going with their respective diatribes against the other’s faith and is so tongue-in-cheekly delivered that even the staunchest zealot should recognize it’s not being mean-spirited. I’m sure some will still see it that way or fault its production value for a reason to shoot it down as “bad” if not heretical, though. To me it’s merely a heightened statement of truth about a subject way too egotistically and hubristically focused to honestly practice what it preaches.
Watch it for yourself on Vimeo.