I’m not the first person to imagine a mainstream Hanukkah blockbuster (see here and here), but I’m giving it my shot. Specifically, I am reimagining the polarizing Christmas classic, Love Actually, as a Hanukkah movie. Here we go.
Written and directed by Jill Soloway, produced by Jenji Kohan
“Whenever my shpilkes gets the better of me and I feel so heartbroken at the world’s mishigas, I think of Hanukkah. Maybe that makes everyone think of gifts and Black Friday stampedes, of spoiled children and disappointed spouses. But I think of the intangibles that are unique to Hanukkah: the smell of fire, the sizzle of latkes, the Festival of Lights. It comes from a story about how the Jews overcame daunting odds in battle and didn’t lose hope. That hope has been burning ever since.”
The First Candle
The movie opens on washed-up starlet Sheba (Barbra Streisand) in a recording studio in Manhattan. She’s trying to make a comeback with her new holiday album, It’s Always Chanukah in my Cheart, but she’s distracted. Really, she just wants to connect with her estranged son, Matthew. Her producer, Sandy Edelman (Drake), tries to lift her spirits, but it’s difficult for him because he also wants to spend Hanukkah with family: his twin sister, Dee (also short for Sandy (Zoe Kravitz)).
We then see Dee in a beautiful synagogue; she’s at a wedding. Leah (Natalie Portman) walks down the aisle to Ezra (Zach Braff) standing under the chuppah. (The wisecracking rabbi who officiates is played by Billy Crystal.) Leah and Ezra look supremely happy. At the reception, Leah and Dee are talking about what married life will look like when Leah confides that she’s still scared of Ezra’s mother, Sarah (Fran Drescher).
Walking from the wedding are Naomi and Hanna (Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer), lamenting how neither one of them “tongue-banged a nice Jewish boy” at the party. They walk the route home, stopping to buy potatoes and jelly doughnuts, all the while yearning to snuggle up with a mensch for cuffing season. As they get home and prepare the menorah (they have the bong menorah) for the lighting of the first candle, they decide that they will each try to find someone before the final candle on the final night of Hanukkah burns out completely.
The Second Candle
The next morning, we see Matthew (Paul Rudd) sitting with his timid daughter, Yael (Iris Apatow), as she practices her bat mitzvah Torah portion, which she will chant before the congregation on the last day of Hanukkah. His wife, Eva (Rashida Jones), comes in. “Are you sure you don’t want to invite your mother to Yaeli’s bat mitzvah? This might be one of the final chances to mend things. Think of how much it could mean to our daughter.” But Matthew refuses, saying that he closed that door when his mother reamed him out for wanting to become a veterinarian instead of a doctor.
Ari (Jack Black) works as the music teacher at a private Jewish day school to make ends meet. He meets the new language teacher Devorah (Rachel Bloom), a young Orthodox woman who just moved from Lithuania. They sing the Yiddish classic “Bei mir bistu shein” together and feel an instant connection. But Ari realizes that Devorah doesn’t speak English, only Hebrew and Yiddish. Disappointed, he hurries home to his tiny studio to light the second candle. He spins the dreidel and asks what his lot in love will be for this year. The dreidel lands on gimel, but he is already eating his microwaved latkes and doesn’t see.
The Third Candle
Sandy’s at the studio again with Sheba, who got drunk the night before and is recovering from a hangover. They mourn how much they miss their families, and Sheba discloses that she would trade her whole music career if it meant she could see her son again.
Ezra and Leah are watching their wedding video. They notice something strange: Leah hardly appears in it. There’s far more footage of Ezra with his mother, Sarah, including the entire mother-son dance to “Sunrise, Sunset.” Leah tries to convince her new husband that his mother doesn’t like her, but Ezra brushes it off. “My mother’s wonderful, you’re wonderful, so there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be wonderful to each other,” he says naively.
Single dad Josh (Richard Kind) and his daughter, Ruthie (Beanie Feldstein), are spending their first Hanukkah without Ruthie’s mother, who passed just after the Jewish New Year. Ruthie wants to celebrate with latkes and presents, but Josh is still grieving.
Over the phone, Ruthie conspires with her friend Miri (Mila Kunis) to set her father up with someone. They agree to get him on dates with Ilana Baumgard (Scarlett Johannson), Elana Appelbaum (Dianna Agron), and Alana Baumapfel (Karlie Kloss).
The Fourth Candle
After 28 attempts, Sheba produces a successful track. Sandy says that he’s booked her a spot on the Today show. They’re briefly happy.
Matthew is gift-shopping in a department store when his mother’s rendition of “Hanukkah, O Hanukkah” begins to play over the loudspeaker. He thinks of how his daughter’s bat mitzvah is only four days away.
Naomi and Hanna, meanwhile, are going all out. They’re both on JSwipe, JDate, and have set up appointments with local matchmakers. A few Tinder guys are inviting them to Christmas in the Hamptons, but Naomi and Hanna are set on finding a Nice Jewish Boy for the Festival of Lights. “Why are all the good ones goy or taken?” they moan.
Ari tries desperately to communicate with Devorah, but accidentally ends up using every dirty Yiddish word he knows in the process.
The Fifth Candle
Matthew prays to reconcile his feelings about his mother. God (Larry David) answers him and says, “I know it doesn’t seem like it, but nobody loves you like your mother does.” Matthew calls Sheba to invite her to the bat mitzvah.
To Ruthie’s chagrin, Ilana Baumgard and Alana Baumapfel are in a committed relationship with each other, so they’re not available to date her father. Elana Appelbaum, it turns out, was good friends with Ruthie’s mother. Ruthie and Elana make latkes together one afternoon and share happy memories. Elana leaves Ruthie with the advice, “A person might seem to be in shreds at first. But really, they just need some egg and oil to fry them back together. That person might seem unrecognizable, but that’s what change is all about.”
Leah and Ezra are getting used to married life. They’re speculating on having children, and get into an argument once Ezra brings up his mother.
Ari starts meeting with Solomon (Ezra Miller) to learn Hebrew and Yiddish. Solomon goes on a surprisingly insightful tangent about the fluidity of both language and gender.
The Sixth Candle
Sheba tells Sandy that she’s been invited to her granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. She’s so happy that they finish recording the album that day. Sandy calls Dee. They last saw each other to break fast, and he misses her. “Sorry, I’ve been really busy with my neuroscience dissertation and teaching at Columbia,” she says. “But let’s get lo mein and watch Infinity Wars on Christmas.”
Hanna and Naomi go out on a double date with Nate and Adam (Seth Rogen and Andy Samberg), who both turn out to be sophomores at NYU but just look much older. (They’re also co-presidents of Hillel.)
The Seventh Candle
Ari confronts Devorah. In broken Yiddish, he invites her to his apartment for Shabbat and Hanukkah. Devorah responds in broken English that she’d be happy to.
Leah hears a knock at the door. She answers it and sees Sarah out in the snow, holding an iPad. Sarah shows the screen to Leah, and swipes to different messages. “But because it’s Hanukkah,” one message reads. “I want to let you know that I accept you into the family. I know you’ll take good care of Ezra.” They smile and hug.
Leah goes back inside. Ezra turns to her. “Did you give my mom an iPad for Hanukkah?” he asks. “Yeah, why?” she replies. “She’s been asking me for one for years, and I never got it for her because she breaks every piece of technology she owns. But that was nice of you.” Unbeknownst to them both, Sarah is watching them through the window, her iPad screen already shattered.
The Eighth Candle
It’s Yael’s bat mitzvah. It comes her time to chant. She’s terrified, and then she chants the Amidah like Mariah Carey. Sheba cries with joy. The two of them perform “It’s Always Chanukah in my Cheart” at the reception that afternoon, which is attended by all characters, including Josh and Ruthie. Josh eyes the handsome photographer, Adam (Jeff Goldblum). At first Ruthie is surprised, but then remembers what Elana told her, and she prompts her father to act. “Let’s, like, just have him over to light the candles.” Josh reluctantly agrees, and to his surprise, Adam accepts the invitation with gusto. They briefly jam out to “Cotton Eye Joe.”
Meanwhile, horny and heartbroken Naomi and Hanna buy some gelt laced with LSD. After they light the final candle they eat the gelt and commiserate. But then, the spirit of Judy Maccabee (Sarah Silverman) appears to them both.
“Who are you?” they ask, mystified.
“I am Judy Maccabee, a little-known heroine from the midrash. I didn’t conquer the Greeks with my hammer, but I got hammered and conquered many Greeks… if you know what I mean.” Judy explains that sometimes oil is plentiful and sometimes oil is scarce. “When the oil is scarce, you need to make your own miracle. And always remember that whether you’re getting laid or not, you can be a Macca-bad-bitch.”