Love makes us do crazy and unexpected things… like convert to Judaism. OK, crazy might be a little harsh, but you get the point. Genevieve Adams’ feature film, Simchas And Sorrows, tells the story of Agnes (Genevieve Adams), a struggling actor in New York City, who is engaged to her love, Levi (Thomas McDonell). Their relationship hits a complication when Agnes discovers that she is pregnant.
Levi is insistent that Agnes, a lifelong atheist, convert to Judaism to appease his family. After explaining that her conversion doesn’t have to be religious but centered on cultural identity and symbolism, Agnes agrees to take conversion classes with the newly assigned Rabbi Cohen (Hari Nef). She is very much in love with Levi and vice versa, but there is natural tension with his parents, Mortimer (Chip Zien) and Maude (Julie Halston), who are devout Jews. Though Levi loves Agnes, he needs to minimize conflict with his parents and doesn’t want to become estranged like his brother and wife, who refused to convert.
At the same time, Agnes will not give up her atheism so easily. Her conversion is eased thanks to the “progressive” Rabbi Cohen. Her modern, somewhat political takes on Judaism (e.g., antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Palestine) raise more than a few eyebrows. Her views on these subjects resonate with the very liberal Agnes. Her love is put to the test when she comes into conflict with the more orthodox members of Levi’s family.
“Levi is insistent that Agnes, a lifelong atheist, convert to Judaism to appease his family.”
Ultimately, Simchas And Sorrows is the story of Agnes reconciling her atheism with her reluctant entrance into the culture of Judaism.Writer/director/lead Adams wisely gives Agnes more than a single narrative thread. The drama plays in a realistic manner, not some Hollywood idea of real life. Our protagonist’s journey and, if I were to guess, the journey of Genevieve Adams, feels authentic in every way.
I’m always drawn to the real stories of everyday people. Narratives that I can relate to without the need for over-dramatized Hollywood scripts. Agnes is an average person who decides to walk down an unknown path hoping that it will make her a better person, a different person. Unlike the hundreds of Christian faith-based films I’ve seen, where the goal is Christian conversion, Simchas And Sorrows is solely about the lead’s journey and, in the end, uncovers the best of being part of the modern Jewish community (warts and all).
Adams gives a beautiful performance as Agnes. It is clear she has an intimate relationship with the character and plot. She is supported by veteran actors Chip Zien and John Cullum, to name a few. Hari Nef is another stand-out as Rabbi Cohen. I’ll be honest. I didn’t agree with a few of her conclusions, but her conviction impressed me.
Simchas And Sorrows works because it’s a personal story that feels authentic. I’m not going to convert to Judaism anytime soon, but Adams’ tale answers many questions I had for my friends who chose to do so. Agnes’ journey is compelling, and in the end, love conquers all.
For screening information, visit the Simchas And Sorrows official website.
"…works because it's a personal story that feels authentic."