We’ve witnessed characters stuck in a time loop “Groundhog Day,” Happy Death Day” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll.”
The Hallmark Channel’s “Round and Round” borrows this idea, and what it lacks in originality, it partially makes up for with the fine performances of Bryan Greenberg, Vic Michaelis and Rick Hoffman.
Greenberg gained notable attention for his role in the 2005 film “Prime,” where he starred alongside Uma Thurman, with Meryl Streep playing his Jewish mother.
His portrayal in this film established him as a sought-after actor, particularly for roles depicting Jewish characters. He also portrayed Ben Epstein, an ambitious young man eager to succeed in the clothing industry, in the HBO series “How To Make It In America.”
Greenberg possesses a natural likability in all his roles. Here, he plays Zach, a nice guy who literally knocks into Rachel Landau (Vic Michaelis) and causes her to drop her doughnuts (sufganiyot) on the floor.
As fate would have it, when Rachel’s boyfriend cancels due to a virus he may or may not have, Zach shows up at Rachel’s home, invited by her grandmother. But before he can set her heart on fire, an actual fire breaks out in the family’s soon-to-be-sold home.
Michaelis delivers a commendable performance as Rachel, a woman insecure about her career choice who compensates with an edgy exterior.
Her angst and disappointment are palpable. Her father, Stan (Rick Hoffman) wants everything to go smoothly.
Paula Shaw, portraying Grandma Rosie, delivers one of the film’s weaker lines, claiming a family member gave the advice: “Don’t eat day old gefilte.” This phrase seems out of place as it’s not a common saying, and gefilte fish usually tastes better on the second day.
Another subpar line is when Rachel’s boyfriend tells her he doesn’t want to pass along his virus “like a Hanukkah super-spreader.” Whoever wrote that joke tried way too hard.
The story unfolds on December 13, the seventh day of Hanukkah and “double chai” or 36 years after Rachel’s parents got married. Directed by Stacey Harding with a friendly enough vibe, writer Tamar Laddy sprinkles in words like “shvitz” and “l’chaim” only to remind us it is a Jewish film.
The plot is predictable and not anywhere near as daring as it should be, but then again, we should not expect high art from a Hanukkah movie.
It’s fast-food-style viewing, and the point is to fill you up with something quick and satisfying. The film improves as it progresses, with clever references like a “Star Wars” nod.
Of course, when the blessing over the Hanukkah candles is recited, we can hear some of the actors are unable to pronounce the “cha” sound.
Halfway through the film, Greenberg and Michaelis do show some chemistry, mostly due to their comedic timing. His too-cool-for-school attitude complements her slowly shattering facade of invulnerability.
“Round and Round” strikes a chord, especially during the holidays, as it highlights how feelings of dissatisfaction in one’s career or love life can become more poignant and challenging during festive times.
Rachel’s sister, Shoshanna (Marnie Mahannah) only appears briefly, and the film would have benefited from more scenes with her. A subplot involving a fake accent is completely bonkers.
The pacing could be better and there should be more tension, but Greenberg, Michaelis and Hoffman have the charisma to make it a worthwhile watch.
It’s on par with the channel’s “Hanukkah on Rye” from last year and Hulu’s “Menorah in The Middle,” which inexplicably gave Sarah Silverman a small role rather than a lead one.
The film comes on the heels of a four-year effort to offer Hanukkah movies alongside Christmas films. Kudos to The Hallmark Channel for making movies so Jewish viewers don’t feel totally left out.
I understand the desire to stick to a tried-and-true formula. Perhaps one day, the channel will venture into creating a more original and complex movie, one that feels like it just came out of the oven.
Though “Round and Round” feels reheated, there are enough good ingredients to warm you up. But don’t expect your heart to be melted.
Originally Published Dec 14, 2023 11:56AM EST