9: Film excerpt, Janicza Bravo’s “Lemon,” 2017.
Janicza Bravo, an American writer, director, and photographer, says of herself that she “might be the only black, Panamanian, Jewish woman working in comedy.” Her work is designed to make audiences uncomfortable and to mock comedic conventions as it explores questions of race and privilege. Lemon is a bleak comedy film about a fragile, mediocre guy and the inherent privilege he enjoys as a white man. It is intentionally, hilariously awkward.
The song “A Million Matzoh Balls,” by New Jersey-raised singer-songwriter Dean Friedman, occurs at the end of a scene of family conflict that takes place over a Passover seder. It contrasts the light and fluffy matzo balls, and the children’s music, with the weightiness of the seder and the deep tensions within the family, including over issues of race. The bright, silly song, stands out in the otherwise acerbic, understated film. Bravo first heard the song at a friend's seder, and she knew it had to be in one of her movies. As she said in an interview with online magazine Vulture, “It’s so great and so ridiculous and so lovely.”
Suggested Activity: Ask your students: what is the tone of the lyrics and what is the tone of the visual appearance of this scene? Do they jive with or contradict each other, and how do they contribute to the humor of this clip? Why, in particular, do you think it is funny or effective for the song to be about matzo balls (rather than simply matzo, for example)? Is there something comic or endearing about the matzo ball that inspires the song’s inclusion in this film and in all the other sources in this kit?
Source: Janicza Bravo, director, Lemon (USA: Burn Later Productions, Killer Films, CYRK Productions, 2017), film. Excerpt posted March 8, 2018, by Vulture’s YouTube channel at < https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PLZQfnFyelTBOQ15kmHSgEbdjzLMWzZpL7&time_continue=26&v=de9_89Thbv8>, accessed March 18, 2018.