A man and a woman sleep across from one another.

Sundance Film Review: Between the Temples

Film Reviews

Sundance Film Review: Between the Temples
Director: Nathan Silver

Ley Line, Fusion
Premiere: 01.19

Cantor Ben Gottlieb (Jason Schwartzman, Asteroid City) has got some things going on, man. The guy keeps choking on Triscuits; he’s not sure he believes in God anymore; his moms keep trying to set him up with anyone who will even think about looking his way and he’s losing his voice, or more likely his confidence in his ability to lead the verses at the synagogue. For all he can see, he’s at the end of his rope. That is until his retired elementary school music teacher Carla O’Connor (Carol Kane, The Princess Bride) scrapes him up off the floor of a bar and tells him she’d like to have a late in life Bat Mitzvah.

Nathan Silver’s comedy Between the Temples is bursting at its haphazardly-stitched seams with fun. Schwartzman—on the heels of a year (and career) best performance in Asteroid City—absolutely windmill dunks about 15 of the funniest line deliveries in recent movie memory. Kane, a true “when is she ever bad?” kind of actor (and deliverer of the best joke in The Muppet Movie), brings a surprisingly steady and warmly measured energy. They’re a lovely, little two-person balancing act: Ben’s not sure he’s got much left in him, and Carla is certain she has so much more left in her.

The tone is natural and at times improvisational, with small zooms into facial expressions and long takes of conversations that simply let us sit in how good and funny these performers are. Some moments feel naturalistic in ways you might never have even considered: In one scene a rabbi’s daughter, Gabby (a standout performance from Madeline Weinstein, Mare of Easttown), starts crying and laughing at the same time in equal measures of purgative hysteria. It’s the kind of thing you’ve seen real people do but haven’t ever really seen performed. 

Between the Temples’ swathes of human comedy are where it really works, and if that comes at the expense of some of the last act’s emotional payoffs feeling a bit rushed and inscrutable, it can be forgiven. It’s a good time, and, of course, the film finally delivers on the Jason Schwartzman/Carol Kane all-star team up that audiences have been demanding for decades. –Daniel Kirkham

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.