If nothing else, Salvador Litvak's new comedy-drama When Do We Eat? has novelty working in its favor. After all, how many stoner Passover comedies prominently featuring a deathly Jack Klugman are there? But even the film's seeming singularity proves deceptive once it becomes apparent that When Do We Eat? is less a Passover movie than a Thanksgiving or Christmas movie dolled up in Jewish drag.
When Do We Eat? has a simple two-part structure. The first half introduces a grating, unpleasant assortment of broad comic types: the angry, resentful lesbian and her sassy black lover; Michael Lerner's dyspeptic, cantankerous family patriarch; a hotshot publicist with a cell phone glued to her ear; the stoner son; and the Hasid reluctant to enter the family business. Instead of gifts, everyone comes to Lerner's home bearing issues and resentments, many dating back decades. Then in the second half, Lerner has a seemingly Ecstasy-induced epiphany, and the filmmakers try to con the audience into caring about the thinly developed gallery of grotesques who spent the first half of the movie screaming at each other. In its first half, the film fails as a brittle, misanthropic comedy. In its second half, it fails as a sentimental, squishy-hearted drama.
A movie this lightweight and glib shouldn't be allowed within the same zip code as anything related to the Holocaust, but that doesn't keep Litvak from trying to win both laughs and pathos out of Holocaust survivor Klugman, whose rampant paranoia sees genocide lurking around every corner. When Do We Eat? is a tonal mess, a kitchen-sink comic melodrama that veers from broad comedy to sticky drama without ever finding a palatable or consistent tone. Lerner boasts that he runs the world's fastest Seder, but due to the gross overabundance of comic and dramatic business at play, even that occasion proves interminable.