A Price Above Rubies (1998) from Tuna

Then let us sit and tell sad tales of the death of kings.
A Price Above Rubies (1998) is a character driven drama, and an art film dealing with the Hasidic culture in New York and the experiences of a vibrant young Jewish wife trying to survive in that environment. Her young husband is very religious and a scholar, and thinks sex is a mitzvah (blessing) and should happen in a pious manner. She would like to get laid frequently and with enthusiasm. 


none. see the main body of commentary for detail
As the film begins, she is a young girl talking with her brother. Even then, she questions parts of the faith. Her brother, to prove something to himself and her, decides to go for a midnight swim (he was a non-swimmer) and drowns. 

Cut to the present, and she is taking her newborn to his bris, but is not happy about it. 

She is having much trouble coping with her libido, the difficulties of raising a newborn, and her husband's indifference toward her.  She is also
under the thumb of her sister in law. Finally, relief of sorts comes from her husband's brother, who gives her a job running his under-the-table
jewelry business, and nails her on top of the table every morning. As she struggles to make meaning of her life, she is frequently seen talking with her dead brother, who, in some ways, is her conscience. She meets a young Puerto Rican jewelry artist, and wants to represent him. Shortly after meeting him, her husband and his sister decide that she is to be shunned, divorced, and expelled from the community.


You can probably figure out the rest of the plot from here, and, in fact, the film makers let you do that, although they visually complete it during the end credits. One of the symbols in the film is a ruby, which is a symbol for Sonia (Renee Zellweger), and is her birth stone. The artist has created a wonderful ring setting for his muse. He says he is saving it for when he finds his muse, then he will know which stone to set in it for her. The film ends with her husband giving her a ruby, and admitting that there was no fault to assign for their failed marriage, but that they just were not compatible.

The jeweler tries to give her the ring, and she asks him to hold it for her for a while. During the closing credits, they show the ruby being set into the ring -- extra closure for those who were unwilling to reach the logical conclusion. It was very refreshing for a film to give me credit for some insight and intelligence. 

End Spoilers 

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1

  • no significant features

This film purportedly has a nipple slip of Zellweger, but it does not exist in the Widescreen version that I saw. There are some poke throughs, when she wakes up in a thin nightgown next to the jewelry artist. There is also excellent breasts and full-frontal from an actress I could not get a positive ID on. The film grossed just over $1.m in a limited US release. I liked it a lot, but we all know I sometimes have weird taste. Zellweger's performance was wonderful, and I enjoyed this glimpse into a culture very foreign to me. I award a B-. You know by now if you are going to see it or not.

Scoop's note:

Writer/director Boaz Yakin has certainly had an unpredictable career. He followed up this sensitive film by writing the script for the ungodly awful From Dusk Till Dawn 2, then directed the smash family hit Remember the Titans. Where do you go from there? I don't see any pattern forming.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4, Maltin 2.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3.
  • With their dollars ... 1 million domestic in a limited run
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-. You know by now if you are going to see it or not.

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