Fun Size: Wren, the teenage heroine of Fun Size, has been invited by the cutest boy at school to his Halloween party. Alas, at the last minute she learns that her recently widowed mother is planning to go to a party as well, and wants Wren to watch her weird little brother Albert, who’s been silent since his father’s death. While out trick-or-treating, Wren and Albert get separated; Albert has wacky adventures while wandering around lost, and Wren has wacky adventures while she frantically searches for him with her friends, including a nerdy boy who’s far better company than the hottie at the party, and who has a crush on her.
Understandably. Wren is played by Victoria Justice, an actress unknown to me but apparently already popular with the Nickelodeon crowd. I’m not saying she’s the next Meryl Streep, but she’s very pretty, with long dark hair and a reserved, somehow secretive smile, and she makes a charming center for this slight but pleasant John-Hughes-ish teen comedy, directed by Josh Shwartz from a script by Max Werner.
Oddly, though, the older set comes across even more strongly—Chelsea Handler is excellent as the pole-axed, walking-wounded Mom, and her scenes at the party manage to be both unpredictable and a little touching without asking for extra credit for it. There’s also a terrific performance by Thomas Middleditch as a scruffy, nattering convenience store clerk who befriends Albert, speaking to him without condescension, as one does to an instantly-recognized kindred spirit.
I think my favorite thing in Fun Size, however, was Albert’s costume: Spider-Man with a torn-off, bloody arm. He finds the stump effect at a costume store and insists on Wren buying it for him, despite her insistence on the nice wholesome Spidey costume, so the two end up combined. Not only is it right for the character—it suggests the extremity of poor Albert’s hurt—it’s a perfect depiction of a jumbled costume concept by any kid who wants to do too much with Halloween, which, irritatingly, only comes once a year.
And at Harkins Shea 14:
It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodore Herzl: In terms of style, It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodore Herzl is a flowing, highly accessible piece of filmmaking. A production of Moriah Films, the movie division of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Richard Trank’s documentary uses archive photos and a few talking-head interviews, along with a pretty, stately musical score by Lee Holdridge, and above all the voices of Ben Kinglsey (narration) and Christoph Waltz (Herzl’s words) to summarize the story of the Zionist visionary and, as context, of late-19th-Century anti-Semitism in western Europe.
The son of a banker, Theodor Herzl was born in Hungary in 1860 and raised in Austria, in a mostly non-observant, assimilated family. He studied law, but his real passion was literature, and he enjoyed some success early on as a playwright, and even more as a journalist, eventually becoming the Parisian correspondent for Neue Freie Presse, an important Viennese paper.
Though he had encountered anti-Semitism earlier, he claimed it was during his coverage of the Dreyfus Affair in 1894 that he became appalled by the rising tide of the sentiment in Europe. In 1896 he wrote Der Judenstaat, a short book outlining his belief that a Jewish State was the answer to this problem. He spent the rest of his relatively short life working to bring not only his own people but world leaders from Kaiser Wilhelm II to Pope Pius X to Sultan Abdulhamid II of the Ottoman Empire around to his point of view.
Herzl wouldn’t live to see the establishment of Israel, and if he had, of course, he still wouldn’t have seen the end of troubles for its residents. As a headline in one of The Onion’s history books put it: “War-Weary Jews Establish Homeland Between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Eygpt.” (“‘In Israel, Our People Will Finally Have Safety and Peace,’ says Ben-Gurion.”)
This agonizing irony hangs over Herzl’s fascinating story. He was right about what must, at the time, have seemed a fanciful notion—a Jewish State, it turned out, really was no dream. But whether the goal behind its conception—a world free of Anti-Semitism and other obsessive, recurrent bigotries—is an attainable dream seems, more than a century after Herzl’s death, as uncertain as ever.