REVIEW: Method Man is the Fixer in Bad Shabbos, 2024 Tribeca Film Festival Audience Winner

By Dwight Brown Film Critic for and NNPA News Wire – When the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival ended June 16th, the audience had spoken. It named the zany, dark comedy Bad Shabbos its Audience Award Narrative winner. And this movie can thank a breakout performance by the 53-year-old rapper Method Man (Wu-Tang Clan) for pulling it across the finish line.

Shabbos is the day of rest for Jewish culture.  Seventh day of the week, and it falls on Saturday, though traditional Shabbat meals generally happen on a Friday evening. That’s the day of the week this family gathers as it welcomes a non-Jewish person into their Upper West Side apartment. Meg (Meghan Leathers), from Wisconsin, is joining them because her fiancé Dave (Jon Bass) is the eldest son. The meal will also include the introduction of her gentile parents (Catherine Curtin, John Bedford Lloyd) to the new in-laws. She doesn’t know it, but Meg is walking into a hell storm.

Dave’s Dad Richard (David Paymer, Mr. Saturday Night) is a tad flakey. His over-controlling mom Ellen (Kyra Sedgwick) can’t hide her disappointment that her son is marrying outside their culture.  Abby (Milana Vayntrub), Dave’s sister, is in attendance with her sadistic, unfaithful boyfriend Benjamin (Ashely Zuckerman), who’s in finance. That bastard loves needling the baby of the family, the teen boy/man Adam (Theo Taplitz), who can’t keep a job to save this life and has mental-emotional problems so vast he masks them with prescription pills. What could go wrong? Everything!

The very clever and sardonic script by writer/director Daniel Robbins and cowriter Zack Weiner takes viewers inside a Jewish New York City home. The footage starts with what should be a normal occasion, which turns it into a hysterical train wreck of events in about ten minutes. As the members of the clan badger each other, some audience members will relate that dynamic to their own family’s issues. While others will be happy just to smirk, laugh and observe. The introduction of the outsider and her parents is similar to a white women introducing her parents to her Black fiancé’s kinfolk at a meal in their home, on their territory. There’s a natural awkwardness as they iron out details, learn customs, innocently offend, apologize and try to build a new relationship.

That’s about where any normalcy ends, and the crazy stuff begins. There’s an accident and a crime coverup that leads to scheming, planning and unsuccessful maneuvering. All staged by inexperienced oddballs who haven’t a clue how to be cool and get the job done. They’re funny, whiney and neurotic. Denial, blundering and failing to call the authorities compounds any possible consequences. What are they to do?

This is where the filmmakers had a moment of genius. Throw an interloper into the mix. Insert the gatekeeper, the doorman Jordan (Method Man). Or better yet, let him insist on interjecting himself into the mayhem as he vies to be the savior, guardian angel and fixer. It’s a smart move casting a rapper in a pivotal role that some wouldn’t suspect he’d do. Credit the musician for daring to take a cliché role and making it all his own. Jordan is a smart, determined guardian with all the answers: “We’ve crossed the Red Sea. No turning back now.”

The ensemble of Jewish and gentile family members is universally well-played by the cast. But Method Man rises from the fray and steals the movie. The casting director could have gone in two other directions. Hire an outrageous, eccentric rapper (Lil Wayne, Flava Flav) who would make the role even more nonsensical. Or book a seasoned comedy actor (Kevin Hart, Martin Lawrence) who could’ve milked each comic moment to death. Method Man proves to be a nice in-between option.

Robbins has directed several indie films. Notably Citizen Weiner, which is also based in New York. Most of this new movie was shot (cinematographer Matt Clegg) in an apartment on West 81st Street on the 16th floor. But lobby scenes (production designer Lily Guerin) were filmed in a building on Riverside Dr., the same one used for Tom Hanks’ movie You’ve Got Mail. The setup, atmosphere and fated gathering are never in question. Though, Robbins’ sense of timing (editor Kait Plum) seems off at points. Why does it take so long for members of the gathering to notice that someone is missing? They’re in an apartment, not a 12-room haunted mansion! Any extended absence would’ve been noticed immediately.

The film’s style fluctuates between that of a funny indie, boisterous TV sitcom episode and a wordy character-driven Broadway farce. Which isn’t a compliment, more an observation. Even with that odd mix and some lulls, Robbins hits most of the beats he needs to keep viewers engaged. As a director, he needs more polish. As a writer, his instincts for humor, odd situations, dialogue and characters are sharper. Good enough to enthrall a Netflix audience. Iffy for a theater audience who can easily see the film’s seams.

When the chips are down. When Dave and Meg’s families can’t find their way out of a colossal mess, a lawyer, rabbi, Superman, Batman and the Jewish mafia don’t show up. The answer to their prayers, if they’d thought to pray, is a middle-aged rapper, moonlighting as an actor, playing a crafty doorman who is smarter than everyone in the room.

No wonder Bad Shabbos won the Audience Award, even though it isn’t perfect. That’s because Method Man helped director Daniel Robbins get his hilarious comedy its flowers by being the one member of the Wu-Tang Clan who could tie up all the loose ends.

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