The most re-made movie in cinematic history, Perfect Strangers, has an Israeli entry. Although the premise of Perfect Strangers remains essentially the same across the 18+ times that this movie, there’s a distinctive Israeli flare to this version. The 2022 Toronto Jewish Film Festival was the perfect venue to showcase one of the latest remakes of this timely story. It’s a wild ride, but it’s one worth taking.
For context, Perfect Strangers was originally an Italian film made in 2016. A group of friends meet for dinner, where there’s only one rule. Everyone has to read out each notification they get on their phones throughout the evening. You can imagine how messy this gets, and fast. Many notifications begin as innocuous enough: a co-worker calling outside of work hours, or a notification to complete a daily dance workout. It soon becomes apparent, however, that everyone is hiding something, not only from their friends, but from their closest family members as well.
It’s a simple enough premise, and yet it’s so effectively executed every time. The simplicity of the story allows viewers to meditate on the larger messages. Director Lior Ashkenazi understood the assignment spectacularly well. The suspense is masterful, and with each new “ding”, there’s a feeling of dread at what new major secret is about to be revealed. There’s a perfect balance between the neutral, the juicy, and the just plain heartbreaking. It’s a reason to reflect on one’s own technology use, and how perilously close we all are to having all of our personal information revealed at a moment’s notice.
The characters themselves are variably sympathetic. For some, it’s clear that these secrets need to be revealed. The double lives that some of them lead are And then, there are those that one can’t help but feel so desperately sad that they have to live their life under cover. As the story unfolds, it’s honestly difficult to believe that all of these people are still friends, let alone still in their respective relationships. And yet, Perfect Strangers asks an important question: how well do we know our friends? Do we tell our friends every details of our lives? How do we navigate these types of relationships when significant portions of our lives are withheld?
As each secret is revealed, opinions on each of these characters evolve. They either become progressively less sympathetic, or more endearing as each revelation unfolds. The performances themselves range from the zany and unbelievable, to the grounded and heartfelt. It’s a mix that makes the chaos work to near perfection.
The twist at the end, also the same across re-made versions of this story, may not satisfy all viewers. However, in this context, it’s an effective device used to bring the story to a close. It’s a fascinating hypothetical about what would actually happen if we had to be brutally honest about how we use our technology. The ending also drives home the point that so many of the relationships that we are introduced to are hanging by a thread.
Perfect Strangers has very likely been re-made so many times, since it’s message is one for our time. It manages to raise complex questions in its simple story. With a unique Israeli twist, this is the best kind of re-make. It stays faithful to the premise of the original movie, while managing to introduce a new cast of characters with all of their quirks and flaws.
Perfect Strangers had its Ontario Premiere at the 2022 Toronto Jewish Film Festival.