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With: Renee Zellweger, Christopher Eccleston, Julianna Margulies, Allen Payne, Glenn Fitzgerald, Kim Hunter, John Randolph, Kathleen Chalfant, Peter Jacobson, Edie Falco, Timothy Jerome, Phyllis Newman, Joyce Reehling, Shelton Dane, Jackie Ryan, Michael Stuhlbarg
Written by: Boaz Yakin
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and brief language
Running Time: 117
Date: 01/22/1998

A Price Above Rubies (1998)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Jewel of Denial

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A Price Above Rubies, the new film by writer and director Boaz Yakin, shows quite a range of talent. That he can go from a standard cop thriller (the screenplay for Clint Eastwood's The Rookie), to a film about a young black drug-dealer (Fresh) to a film about a woman who doesn't belong in the Hasidic community into which she has married, says a great deal about his storytelling ability. He is someone who is grounded and who listens.

Renee Zellweger plays Sonia, who marries Mendel (Glenn Fitzgerald), a Hasidic scholar, and has a child. Soon, she is having panic attacks, unable to put her feelings into words and thoughts. Her brother-in-law, Sender (Christopher Eccelston), gives her a job buying jewelry for his basement store. Sonia's father had been a jeweler, and she has a natural ability to spot value and beauty. She meets Ramon (Allen Payne), who makes his own jewelry from scrap metal. This causes strains in all of her relationships, and eventually, she must answer her heart.

Zellweger became a star overnight in one movie, Jerry Maguire; she's one of the bravest and most talented actresses around, and she gives a great performance in A Price Above Rubies. Some of the credit should go to Yakin, who created so rich a complex a role that an actress like Zellweger can truly shine. There are very few roles like that.

A Price Above Rubies succeeds because it occupies a corner of movies often untouched. We have an interesting lead character, who is a female, who takes her own destiny into her own hands. She guides the story. The setting of the story is one we don't often see, the Hasidic neighborhoods of New York. Yakin dares to not only enter that neighborhood, but to find beauty and sadness in it, rather than something alien or foreign. Yakin crafts an interesting structure for the film, with flashbacks to Sonia's childhood with her adored, dead brother. The brother appears in modern day, too, to guide Sonia. It would have been nice if Sonia had spilled her problems to her ghostly brother; we could have gotten more insider her character.

A Price Above Rubies too often drops into conventional storytelling, with swelling music and the works, but it is unusual enough and touching enough that I can recommend it.

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