Polish Bar is a story of faith, loyalty and family. Vincent Piazza plays Reuben, a young, middle-class Jew who is fed up with the family jewelry business. He looks for respect by trying to prove himself as a Hip Hop DJ and working for Polish criminals at the local strip club. In a world of sex, cocaine and violence, he encounters Ebony, a young black girl who clashes with Reuben’s tough guy front. But when Moises, his Orthodox cousin arrives, this causes Reuben to question his own actions and beliefs. Family, greed and faith conspire against him as he struggles with the ludicrous underbelly of Chicago and his desire to make a name for himself.
Reuben is so bent on not practicing his Jewish faith that in the end he risks the love and trust of his mom and uncle. He isn’t content with the money he makes at his uncle’s jewelry store by day, and the beats he makes at the bar have caught the attention of the local thugs. In turn, these local thugs offer him an opportunity to dabble in drug dealing. Things are going along fine, but when Moises comes to visit, Reuben’s life seems to spiral downward. Moises practices Jewish tradition, even dressing in traditional garb, all along aware of how Reuben makes his extra money. But he suddenly loses his drug supplier, and everyone is on his back, as well as his family is dealing with the death of his grandfather who is living his final days out in the hospital.
When Reuben is pushed against the wall, he steals $20K from his uncle’s store to buy dope to meet his customers’ demands. And this event takes him farther away from his familial roots and closer to him being like the other thugs that frequent the bar. To compound Reuben’s bad choices, he gets into a fight with Ebony, played by Golden Brooks, after she is unable to pay him the money that she owes him from her drug sales. He is arrested right around the time his grandfather passes. He isn’t welcome to sit Shiva and is very upset. But this is a good time for Reuben to decide how he is going to address the bad blood that has flowed among his family and regain their trust and respect. And it is even a better time for him to be away from the club, because not too many people appreciated that he struck a woman.
Polish Bar is set in Chicago, and it was great seeing all the iconic Chicago sites, i.e., the elevated train, two flats and mean streets that could only be represented by Chicago. I didn’t enjoy Brooks’ portrayal as the queen of “tits and ass” at the club, but everybody (actor) has to make a living somehow. Her underlying story, i.e., just why am I working at a strip club? was that she was taking care of her younger brother. However, he wasn’t too thrilled when he learned about her employment. She constantly catches a hard time from the club’s owner, played by Meatloaf.
Reuben seems to be a tortured soul; he knows what will make his family happy, but he hasn’t done it in so long that he feels that it will put a strain on his life. But what he has been doing is no longer working, and he must make a change. But many people practice the family’s religion when they are young, only to veer away from it as they become older. So in this way, this was a familiar story.
Overall, I enjoyed Polish Bar. It was interesting at first watching Reuben go back and forth, while desperately trying to respect his family, particularly his dying grandfather. But it was good to know that in the end, he just wanted reconciliation. Other cast members include Judd Hirsch and Richard Belzer. Director and co-writer Ben Berkowitz is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Polish Bar is available on VOD March 19 and other digital and rental formats. Visit www.polishbar.com for more information.