From this vantage point, 2021 is turning out to be an above-average year for LGBT movies, characters and actors.
The tone and the bar have been set by recommended films that have already opened (or streamed) including “Swan Song,” “Breaking Fast,” “Sublet,” “Twilight’s Kiss,” “Moffie,” “Port Authority,” “Together Together,” and “Supernova.”
Add “Minyan” (Strand Releasing), Eric Steel’s feature debut, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay, to the growing list. Set in an orthodox Jewish enclave in Brighton Beach in the mid-to-late 1980s, the movie opens, fittingly enough with family and friends reciting the mourner’s prayer for the late wife of Josef (Ron Rifkin). Declaring that he can’t stay in the house because there are too many memories, Josef ignites one of the major plot points — the search for suitable subsidized housing for a devoutly religious man and heroic soldier.
Josef’s grandson David (Samuel H. Levine in a breakout performance), to whom he is very close, lives with his parents Rachel (Brooke Bloom), a dentist’s receptionist, and Simon (Gera Sandler), a boxer turned physical therapist. Both of David’s parents gave up their careers (Rachel was a dentist) when they immigrated to the U.S. from Russia when he was a young boy. They send David to a religious school because they fear for his safety in a public school. As Rachel puts it, “in Jewish school, no one can hurt you for being a Jew.”
That, of course, isn’t true and David keeps getting into trouble and into fights at his school. He’s also becoming increasingly aware of his attraction to other guys. In fact, Nowhere, a Manhattan bar becomes a source of fascination for him. So much so that he, well underage, enters the bar where a customer buys him a drink.
It’s in this bar that he first encounters hot bartender Bruno (Alex Hurt), a man who will, pardon the pun, play a seminal role in David’s life. But that’s not all that is occupying David’s mind.
In addition to securing an apartment for Josef, David learns that his best friend in the world, Nathan (Zane Pais), is planning to enlist in the Israeli army after graduation. David also discovers the active tearoom at a local library. He enrolls in a public high school where he excels and is taken under the wing of a teacher. He meets and befriends Alicia (Carson Meyer), a classmate who is far more interested in him than he is in her.
But perhaps the most important relationship of which he becomes aware is that of Herschel (Christopher McCann) and Itzik (Mark Margolis), an elderly, closeted gay couple whose apartment is next door to Josef’s. The relationship is alternately heartbreaking and affectionate (as it can possibly be under the circumstances), and David observes them closely and respectfully.
As coming out stories go, “Minyan” is atypical. True, 2018’s “Disobedience” had a similar setting, but its main characters were lesbians, and the time period was more contemporary. The fact that “Minyan” is set during the 1980s, as AIDS deaths were mounting, is another significant plot point. The ensemble cast, especially Levine, Hurt, Rifkin, Bloom, and McCann, does a convincing job of establishing place, time, and mood.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.