CinemaDave (cinemadave) wrote,

Pay your dues at "The Tollbooth"

“The Tollbooth" is one of those quiet little movies
about family life that Hollywood does not seem to make
anymore. Thankfully New York independent filmmakers
excel at creating these funny portraits of young artists who
finally mature. This low cost film follows
the Aristotelian laws for good drama; keep the story
moving with interesting characters that people can
relate too.

The film begins with a somber musical note as a crying
Sarabeth (Marla Sokoloff) drives her car in the darkness.
Sarabeth narrates her predicament and we meet her parents,
Isaac (Ronald Guttman) and Ruthie (Tovah Feldshuh). No
topic is off color in this household. These Russian
Jewish Emigrant parents from the gulag days can't seem
to understand the modern traumas of their three
daughters, Sarabeth, Raquel (Idina Menzel), and Becky
(Liz Stauber). The family arguments are painful to
watch because Mother knows how to hit the raw nerve in
each of her three daughters. Given her artistic
sensibilities, Sarabeth initially appears to be the
most rebellious of the sisters. Yet as she grows as an
artist, she uncovers truths about her sisters who have
hidden emotional scars.

While the perspective of “The Tollbooth” is that of a
Jewish Family, the family arguments are as universal
as “Everybody Loves Raymond“ and “The Cosby Show.“
Religious traditions move the narrative along, with
the spiritual values of the three daughters in direct
contrast with the orthodoxy of their parent's past.
This film shows how traditions and the family airing
of greivances provides strength for the unity of a

Sarabeth's evolution as an artist is also a major
theme in the movie. Upon her recent graduation from a
Manhattan Art School, she is a victim of educational
elitism that brainwashes twenty something students.
As she goes out into the real world as a “cater
waiter," she comes in contact with true conformity.
It is only by traveling to a Pennsylvania countryside,
where she pays a toll, that Sarabeth realizes that she
is paying her dues as a blossoming artist.

As the narrator, actress Marla Sokoloff dominates the
story. Mostly known as a television actress from
television shows like "Desperate Housewives,“
”The Practice“ ”Party of Five,“ Sokoloff makes the
successful transition from a bratty self centered girl
to a sincere artist with a hidden altruistic streak.
Both Ronald Guttman and Tovah Feldshuh manage to
balance their sometime thoughtless comments with
genuine parental concern for their unhappy daughters.
One painfully funny moment occurs when the mother
throws her children out of the house, while the father
intones, without sarcasm, “Drive Carefully!“

Director and screenwriter Debra Kirscher has crafted
a genuine little family film with big themes presented
in subtle ways. Inspired by “Fiddler on the Roof,”
“The Tollbooth” can be seen as a historical sequel to
that award winning musical from the early 1970s. The
setting for “Fiddler on the Roof” dealt with a Jewish
father and his daughters in poverty stricken Russia.
Ruthie and Isaac seem to know the intimate world of
the old chimney sweeper all-to-well. While historical
perspectives change, the issues of morals, values and
love remain constant.

If anything, you will drive away from “The Tollbooth”
with many words of wisdom from the parent's version of
the Torah. Among one of the best lines from the
movies of 2006, is the Ruthie's belief that;

"The choice that makes you less sick to your stomach is usually the right one."

My stomach feels find as I recommend “The Tollbooth”
for a matinee movie.
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