At the Tel Aviv wedding reception that opens Jellyfish, new bride Noa Knoller accidentally locks herself in a bathroom stall, then busts up her leg trying to escape. Meanwhile, moping around the edges of the reception hall, two other women are unaware that they're less than 24 hours away from having their lives irrevocably changed. Disheveled waitress Sarah Adler, still reeling from a breakup, is about to find a mute, lost little girl on a beach, and the maternal stirrings she'll feel will help her deal with the scars left by her neurotic parents. And Filipino home-care worker Ma-nenita De Latorre is about to start her new job looking after an irascible old woman, who'll help her understand how complicated mother-child relationships can be. As for Knoller, she'll be laid up in a hotel room for a week while all this drama is happening to people whose lives she's tangentially touched.
The husband and wife team of director Etgar Keret and writer/co-director Shira Geffen spend much of Jellyfish mapping the distance between expectation and reality for the inhabitants of a progressive beachside community. The filmmakers throw in a few visual gags to make their point clearer: At one point, Adler and her ex talk in front of a beautiful blue sky that turns out to be painted on the side of a delivery truck. Later, De Latorre waits in an employment agency under a 3D painting of a picturesque waterfall. Jellyfish isn't about big crises, like a lot of the "everything's connected" genre of cinema. It's about smaller disappointments, in a world populated by liars and phonies.
As such, Jellyfish is the kind of film that will ring true for some viewers, while striking others as too slight and precious. The melancholy pervading Jellyfish can be summed up by one of Adler's fleeting memories of one day decades ago, when her parents said they could have ice cream later, but they never did. In some ways, it's refreshing to see a movie in which everyone's anxieties are scaled down to a relatable level, instead of being traceable to terrorism, madness, or child sexual abuse, as is the case with so many other indies. But at the same time, all the bitterness in Jellyfish seems way out of proportion to its cause. At a certain point, Keret and Geffen should maybe have laid off the artfully composed sketches of their protagonists' lonely lives, and instead written some other characters to tell them to snap out of it.