Everyone grieves differently, but movies about grieving usually all seem alike. Except for Shawn Snyder’s “To Dust,” that is, which brings a pained Hasidic widower and sardonic biology professor together for what amounts to a tasteless comedy routine wrapped in a philosophical inquiry, dressed in a strangely well-emulsified mixture made from the individually healing powers of science and devotion.
After the traditionally fast, regimented and away-from-view Jewish burial ritual for his wife, Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) finds himself in spiritual distress about the realities attending her deceased body. Looking for answers, the obsessed cantor defies religious custom by persuading a community college science teacher, Albert (Matthew Broderick), to school him in decomposition, beginning with the theft, killing and burying of a pig.
Like a needlephobe who realizes the cure is in watching the puncture, Shmuel’s dilemma is a uniquely fact-driven one for someone steeped in closed-eyes belief. But for rumpled, cynical Albert it’s also an opportunity to revive a career-eroded curiosity about science, so long as his partner in unorthodoxy’s brusque naivete doesn’t drive him nuts first.
As dances go between science and faith, Snyder, who wrote the witty script with Jason Begue, is on to something, especially with the way Broderick’s gift for sincere, deadpan exasperation bounces off Röhrig’s committed portrayal of a sympathetically cracked holy man. The movie could use a little more energy — this is Paul Mazursky territory, after all, not Andrei Tarkovsky — but in its sick-but-sweet attempt to reclaim grief from the trappings of tradition, “To Dust” is its own well-measured godsend.
— Robert Abele
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.; Laemmle Town Center, Encino
‘The Breaker Upperers’
Executive produced by Taika Waititi, “The Breaker Upperers” features a distinctly New Zealand style of comedy: dry, awkward and utterly hilarious. But directors, writers and stars Jackie van Beek and Madeline Sami still give this film a wild energy that’s absolutely their own, with jokes that take the audience from giggles to cackles to all-out shrieks.
Auckland-based BFFs Jen (Van Beek) and Mel (Sami) run a business that helps people get out of relationships, faking death, pregnancy and religious conversion when a simple, “It’s not you, it’s me” won’t do the trick. Despite its rom-com-sounding title, “The Breaker Upperers” isn’t really about traditional romantic relationships. Instead, it’s driven by the well-realized friendship and chemistry of Jen and Mel, two characters given specificity by the script and performances by Van Beek and Sami.
— Kimber Myers
‘The Breaker Upperers’
Running time: 1 hour, 22 minutes
Playing: Available on Netflix, Friday
Just as there are cat people and dog people, there are people who like dog movies and those who do not. “Patrick” tries hard, but it won’t be able to win over any converts, despite its exceptionally cute canine star.
Patrick is lucky he’s cute because the pug is a terror. When Sarah (Beattie Edmondson) is bequeathed the spoiled creature, she can’t handle his bad behavior. But her beloved grandmother had her reasons for pairing the two, and Patrick may be just what Sara needs.
Director Mandie Fletcher and her fellow screenwriters Vanessa Davies and Paul de Vos set up “Patrick” like a romantic comedy, with Patrick slowly winning Sarah over. Though the family-friendly comedy has all the good intentions of a motivational puppy poster, it unfortunately also has the same level of intelligence and plot.
— Kimber Myers
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Glendale