Saturday, July 20, 2013

Infatuated With TV's 'Loving Leah'

The old Catskills comedian Milt Kamen had a routine about Western movies. He loved them. You could kick back, relax. The good guy was killing the bad guy. End of story. 

In particular, Kamen applauded "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral": "I saw it before, but that's why I went. Because a lot of times I want to know what's coming. I don't want any strain, nothin'. I just want to sit, you know. Because the world is changing all around us, and at least that stays steady." 

Exactly my sentiments with Hallmark Channel. Its movies are as predictable as a first-date rejection. And I devour them.


No torture. No treachery. No complications. Just a kiss at the end with understood married bliss forever.


You can take the terror of "A Clockwork Orange" and repugnance of "Pulp Fiction."


Give me "The Magic of Ordinary Days" and "Loving Leah."


Both are Hallmark landmarks living off the channel's formula: Man and woman hook up, don't realize how great they have it, then wake up in time for happily ever after. 


Hey, I'm 58.  I don't need a heart attack. 


So I watch these two favorites ad infinitum.


I'm so into "The Magic of Ordinary Days," I get a kick out of the little country tune when Keri Russell's Livy character drives off with her antique find.


I'm so hooked on "Loving Leah," I can't get enough of the kitchen kissing, the hottest scene of all time. 


And here I am laughing at my sister Pam for once watching "Leave It to Beaver" reruns on a loop. And my wife, Maria, for focusing on The Filipino Channel. At least they catch variety. I'm on a broken record. And reveling in it. 


Hallmark's "The Magic of Ordinary Days" is tops enough — yet just below the book.  The show made me check out Ann Creel's novel, and it's a doozy. It packs American, Colorado, European and WWII history alongside real people issues and the forced-marriage-yields-to-ardor theme into a wonderfully written book. The metaphors alone are worth turning the page. Seriously, Kreel's work left me with one adjective: jealous. You can only look up at her talent. 


Then there's "Loving Leah."


If I watch it anymore, it'll pass "Dr. No" on my DVR replay run. To say I'm addicted makes a mockery of monthly pancakes. I watch "Loving Leah" once a week. And can't recall what life was like before the flick filled our living room flat screen in late June.


It's so bad, I'm consumed by Jeff Beal's music setting up scenes. His effort landed an Emmy for a reason. The melodies capture each moment — the memorial, the comedy, the sorrow, the romance — with perfect pitch. I'm not sure whether he used a clarinet to transition to the Jewish burial near the opening, and I asked him about that on Facebook, but the tone is spot on. 


That alone reflects my obsession with "Loving Leah." How many nonmusical comedies leave their melodic impression on you? None. With me, I'm into the "Lawrence of Arabia" score, but figured that was it. Until now.  


"Loving Leah" came out years before I became aware of it. Its first TV showing was in January 2009. Where have I been? Watching the Lakers, Jets, Mets, Mizzou, Bond. Really just got fixated on Hallmark this year. Comes with age. 


Besides Beal's music, what's the hook of "Loving Leah"?


The cast. Lauren Ambrose (the "Six Feet Under" redhead) should've landed an Emmy for her kissing approaches alone. If chicks did that all the time, dudes would never get out the door. Ambrose's facial expressions also spark, but what really flashes is her overall look. Her Leah starts as a dowdy widow and ends as a pillar of sophisticated beauty. Adam Kaufman, as her beau Jake, comes through with funny faces and lines. Also on target are Susie Essman (the Larry David screamer) as Leah's Jewish-to-the-hilt mama, Mercedes Ruehl as Jake's joyous mom, Natasha Lyonne as Leah's cool sister and Ricki Lake as the equally guy-named Rabbi Gerry. 


The religion. When "Loving Leah" isn't maneuvering through its title, it's spotlighting Jewish life. My dad was a Jew, but he knew more about Army helmets than yarmulkes. We kids grew up Protestant under our mom's tutelage. Now I'm back in the Catholic fold that Mom's way-back-when Italian relatives no doubt practiced. Part of me wonders what it would've been like to take the Jewish path of my cousins Rusty, Ronnie, Stephie and Ira. 


"Loving Leah," thanks to P'nenah Goldstein's brilliant script, spells out the Jewish culture that so many of us don't know. She has Leah and her sister uttering vayzmeer, Yiddish for oh, brother. The playwright also shares the observant and shrugging Jewish sides, with Leah and Jake landing in the middle. When Goldstein is done, she's left a gold stone of a treasure. 


I could go on a few more paragraphs. I know this flick by heart. But you don't want the plot ruined. The only thing left to add is a note to Goldstein and the penetrating producer Michael Besman: Please make a sequel. And call it "Lasting Leah."



Bucky Fox is an author and editor in Southern California.