Russian Jewish teenager David (Samuel H. Levine) is growing up closeted in 1980s New York as he helps move his grandfather Josef (Ron Rifkin) a senior housing complex. There he meets an elderly gay Jewish couple who live their lives in secret but who open David’s eyes to his own sexuality and the conflicts it creates with his faith. Growing wearing of the constraints of the religious community he’s surrounded by, David begins to explore New York’s East Village where he meets bar tender Bruno (Alex Hurt). The spark between the two men is a sexual awakening for David and leads him on a journey to embrace his true self.
‘Minyan’ is from director Eric Steel and it’s based on the short story of the same name by David Bezmozgis. A contemplative and non-intrusive look at the conflicts of religion and sexuality against the backdrop of the AIDs epidemic, ‘Minyan’ is content to ponder rather than particularly try to make an impactful statement. The film could almost be two completely different stories, with much of the first hour taken up with David getting to know his grandfather’s new neighbours and struggling to keep his focus in school, while the second hour throws David into a world he knows nothing about through his instant connection with Bruno.
Samuel H. Levine carries the film firmly on his shoulders with impressive support from Alex Hurt and Ron Rifkin. All three actors are believable in their roles and the chemistry between Levine and Hurt ensures that you’re convinced by the lust they have for one another. Perhaps less convincing is Hurt’s Bruno growing increasingly frustrated with David’s naivety about the AIDs crisis despite himself happily having unprotected sex with men he’s just met. Bruno’s expectation that David should know everything, when he’s clearly taking his first baby steps out of the closet, feels unrealistic.
I also felt that we never truly get to know these characters despite spending nearly two hours with them. David remains an unknown quantity by the time the curtain closes and Bruno is never fleshed out beyond a stereotypical older hunk (potentially bordering on predator) whose only purpose appears to be to open David’s eyes to the world that’s unfolding around him. Both of these characters, not to mention the actors, deserved much more depth than the material here gives them.
Perhaps the biggest issues for me with the film is that it doesn’t really build up to anything. There’s no day of reckoning for David with his family or the religious community he is part of. The AIDs epidemic may be escalating but it doesn’t really touch David so feels more of a passing reference for context. Is David more evolved by the end of the film? Possibly. Is his life any closer to being more than just a big old mess? Not really.
‘Minyan’ is beautifully shot and the acting is strong but for me, the film feels over long and it doesn’t particularly go anywhere. I admire that this isn’t simply another coming out tale but there’s so much more to explore when it comes to the conflict between religion and sexuality. The film barely scratches the surface and while it paints interesting parallels between David’s sexuality and his faith, it never digs deep enough to deliver anything truly insightful or profound.
Cast: Samuel H. Levine, Ron Rifkin, Alex Hurt, Mark Margolis, Christopher McCann Director: Eric Steel Writers: David Bezmozgis (short story), Daniel Pearle & Eric Steel (screenplay) Certificate: 15 Duration: 119 mins Released by: Peccadillo Pictures Release date: 7th January 2022