‘Wedding Coach,’ ‘Shiva Baby’ and Hemingway sidelights

Emma Seligman

By Nate Bloom Special to the Jewish Light

“The Wedding Coach,” a six-episode Netflix romantic reality series, began streaming on April 7. The advance publicity says, “Former bride and forever comedian JAIME LEE shares her irreverent yet practical tips and tricks for wedding planning with struggling lovebirds.”

Lee, 38, has climbed the comedy ladder. She was a writer’s assistant (2010) to JERRY SEINFELD as he co-hosted the reality series “Marriage Ref.” In 2011, she finished second on the “Last Comic Standing” TV show. After that, she did stand-up sets on just about every major talk show. She’s perhaps best known for being a core cast member on the popular MTV series “Girl Code” (2013-15).

Lee’s book, “Weddiculous: The Unfiltered Guide to Being a Bride” (2016), chronicled her wedding to comedian DAN BLACK, 38ish. In 2016, Lee told the Jewish Journal that her mother is Jewish, but she never practiced any religion. Dan, she said, wanted to incorporate Jewish traditions into their wedding and his wishes prevailed: they signed a ketubah, were married by a rabbi and danced the hora.

Two Jewish-themed movies opened in the last few weeks. “Donny’s Bar Mitzvah,” a raunchy flick, set in the ’90s, got terrible reviews and isn’t worth your time.

The opposite is true of “Shiva Baby”, a comedy/drama which opened on April 2 in some theaters and is now streaming on Amazon ($5 to rent). Most of the film takes place at a family shiva gathering. Almost all critics have lauded the cast and praised first time director/writer EMMA SELIGMAN, 26.

The title is a play on words. The lead character, Danielle (Rachel Sennott), is a bi-sexual college senior with an older, Jewish, “sugar daddy” who pays for her expenses and, in return, gets sexual favors. Danielle doesn’t really need his money, but she likes the power arrangement.

Imagine Danielle’s shock when the Sugar Daddy unexpectedly shows up at a shiva gathering at her aunt’s house with his “perfect” (non-Jewish) wife. Things get even more complicated when Maya (MOLLY GORDON, 25), Danielle’s girlfriend in high school, also shows up at the shiva.

The supporting cast includes FRED MELAMED, 64, as Danielle’s father and, ironically, the Jewish DIANNA AGRON, 34, as the perfect, blonde, non-Jewish wife.

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The PBS documentary series “Hemingway” (about Ernest, of course) premiered on April 5. It is a six-hour, three-episode series that was shown over three nights this week. It was co-directed by Ken Burns (whose wife is Jewish) and LYNN NOVICK, 58. If you missed the first airing, it can be streamed on the PBS website and it’s easy to catch a TV broadcast re-run this week.

Before the series began, I thought about writing about “Hemingway and the Jews.” No literary scholar disputes that he was, to some degree, anti-Semitic. But I was quite sure that the “Hemingway” filmmakers would address that issue. You don’t win as many Emmys as Burns and Novick have won by ignoring the flaws of their biographical subjects.

Oddly, however, I got back to Hemingway while checking out the background of DAVID CARO LEVY, a “hot” Latin American Jewish actor I’ll say more about in my next column. Levy’s father was probably a “real” bullfighter and I flashed on SIDNEY FRANKLIN (1903-1976), a Jew that Hemingway greatly admired.

Franklin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Orthodox parents. Estranged from his police officer father, he went to Mexico as a teen and, almost on a dare, studied bullfighting. He became an amazingly successful bullfighter in Mexico and Spain. In “Death in the Afternoon” (1932), Hemingway writes, “[Franklin] is a better, more scientific, more intelligent, and more finished matador than all but about six of the full matadors in Spain today and the bullfighters know it and have the utmost respect for him.” 

Franklin was funny and fluent in Yiddish as well as several Spanish dialects. He was friends with Hemingway and James Dean. He was also gay, a fact he barely concealed during his lifetime (see the 2019 New York Times article, “The Gay Jewish Matador from Brooklyn”).

One more thing: “Hemingway” did much more than mention the great reporter MARTHA GELLHORN (1908-1998), the writer’s third wife. However, it barely mentioned her St. Louis roots. She was born and raised in St. Louis and was a graduate (1926) of the John Burroughs School. Her father was a Jewish physician. Her mother, who had a Jewish father, was raised Protestant.

Gellhorn had no attachment to any religion or “anything Jewish” until she was among the first reporters to enter Dachau in 1945. After that, she had much more “Jewish identity” and was generally very sympathetic to Israel, which she frequently visited.