The premise is both simplistic and implausible, but it does offer fertile ground for comedy.
If you’ve been waiting for the right occasion to partake of medical or legalized marijuana, here it is: The Israeli comedy Greener Pastures plays the Lenore Marwil Detroit Jewish Film Festival at 7 p.m. Monday, May 2.
I don’t mean to suggest that the movie’s inclusion is cause for celebration. I’m saying that your viewing pleasure will be enhanced by being under the influence.
A genial, easygoing effort populated by generally likable characters, Assaf Abiri and Matan Guggenheim’s debut feature provides mildly diverting entertainment. OK, let me be blunt: You’ve got to be high to find it funny.
The good news is that Greener Pastures delivers none of what passes for humor in some circles: bodily function jokes, embarrassing sexual situations, gratuitous swearing, viciously insulting banter. But the absence of anything remotely edgy gives the movie an odd vibe, as if it’s taking place in the comparatively innocent 1970s or 1980s rather than the present day.
That may explain how the 2020 movie corralled a remarkable 12 Ophir Award nominations —including Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress — and also how it didn’t win even one of those Israeli Oscars.
The plot revolves around Dov (Shlomo Bar-Aba), a sad-sack widower and retired postal worker who’s just moved into new digs in an upscale retirement community. It’s a nice place, but it’s not home — or rather, the house he lived in for decades before his estranged daughter and grandson made him relocate.
Presumably, Dov was compelled to leave because he lost his pension as a consequence of the privatization of the postal service and the devious strategies of some well-placed gonifs. If he has a purpose in life, it is to somehow score the shekels to get back into his house.
Dov’s friends encourage him to lighten up by lighting up — that is, by taking advantage of the cannabis reform laws that offer free, government-supplied weed to people over 75. This straight arrow refuses to touch the stuff, although he unknowingly enjoys the effects when someone slips him a THC-packed cookie.
Eventually, a light bulb goes on and the grumpy old man figures out a way to turn free medical marijuana for seniors into market-price pot for everyone else. The end goal, of course, is to repurchase his old house with his profits.
The premise is both simplistic and implausible, but it does offer fertile ground for comedy. Alas, the filmmakers don’t exploit it. Does Dov reinvent himself as an entrepreneur, with a line of tie-dyed clothes and Bibi rolling papers? No. Does his inner rebel emerge and manifest itself in a caustic Israeli disdain for authority and rules? No. Do his aged co-conspirators adopt Scarface bling and slang? No.
The underlying problem with “Greener Pastures,” aside from its prosaic execution, is that Dov’s plan is fueled by a desire to go back — to his house, to the past — rather than into a new future rife with possibilities. The promise of the title, curiously, doesn’t pertain to its protagonist.
Even the emergence of a potential love interest is undercut by Dov taking her to visit the house. Sure, we root for Dov’s short-term criminal venture, but we’re not inspired by either him or his crusade.
Dov’s scheme, it’s worth noting, requires the participation of his grandson’s girlfriend, an attorney who hates her day job. (Her housewarming gift when Dov moved into the retirement community was a plant she pilfered from her office.) It turns out her key role, emotionally, is to be the link through which Dov might find his way to reconnect with his family.
Greener Pastures ultimately plays out as a parable of reconciliation rather than a Golden Years farce or stoned crime caper. In fact, perhaps you’re better off not thinking of it as a comedy at all. What’s that? I’m too late, and you’re halfway through a joint? Now that’s funny.