Josh is in his apartment, sheltering at home. But as he faces the prospect of Passover -- the first after his mom's passing -- he decides to make one of her favorite recipes to commemorate the holiday. He hunts down her recipe for beefies, but can only find an incomplete card. Attempts to forge ahead using cookbooks and the Internet prove fruitless to recreate his mom's homemade cooking.
So Josh is forced to reach out to his estranged brother Mark, who might have the other half of the recipe card, which only brings out the latent conflict between them both. But as Josh is increasingly desperate to find his mother's lost recipe, he must learn to meet his brother halfway.
Written and directed by Adam Lebowitz Lockard (who also plays the main role), this short family dramedy combines heartwarming themes of food and family in a way that's both traditional and satisfying, much like the recipe at the center of the story. Told with a straightforward and modest charm, it is specific to the Jewish tradition of Passover and our current contemporary moment. But it achieves a universal appeal for its gentle recognition of conflict, grief and the sometimes fractious but enduring bonds of family.
Many family dramas deal with the levels of trauma, pain and suffering that dysfunctional families can foment. But this narrative has a lightness of touch with the grief and familial conflict it deals with, thanks to its well-crafted writing and easygoing naturalism in the visuals. The storytelling neither glosses over the thornier aspects of life nor dwells too long on them, maintaining an even keel in the film's emotional temperature and offering moments of irony and humor.
This lightness includes the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a matter-of-fact circumstance in the background of the story. There are masks and plenty of Zoom meetings that feed into Josh's separation from his community and his brother, and the moments of cultural specificity are handled with straightforward authenticity as well. But the core of the story is Josh's search for a piece of his absent mother, and the estrangement from his brother that proves to be his most formidable obstacle.
As Josh, Lebowitz Lockard offers a performance that aligns with the film's unique emotional blend of equanimity and melancholy. He's engaging as the brother who wants to celebrate a holiday with a recipe his mom cooked for him growing up, but he's pulled out of his immediate concerns when he must deal with his brother, played by actor Goran Ivanovski with a half-distracted annoyance that's both real and funny. But Josh eventually learns to see things from his brother's perspective with empathy and make amends, leading to a well-earned reconciliation that's all the more affecting for how gently it's handled.
"Beefies" focuses on Passover, but it is also a part of a rich heritage of family stories in cinema, with its focus on food, ritual and family. It ably captures how we honor our loved ones who are no longer with us by passing on their recipes, meals and traditions, and how sharing meals is a bridge, even when the distance between people feels like a chasm. After the recent pandemic, we may no longer take the importance of gathering with our kin for granted. For Josh and Mark, and for us, the pleasure will feel newly hard-won, and all the more appreciated.