Two Jewish teens find their friendship tested to the breaking point in “Tahara,” a bitter, sarcastic, and often funny film from director Olivia Peace. It offers a blistering, authentic view of the teen experience in America, and it will especially resonate with females who can relate to what life was like in high school when they were younger.
When their former Hebrew school classmate commits suicide, best friends Hannah (Rachel Sennott) and Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) attend her funeral. After the services, the pair decide to sit in on the “Teen Talk-Back” session that’s being hosted by their synagogue as a way to help them process their grief. During the afternoon, a kissing incident turns their world upside down, exposing lust, desires, and toxic friendships that may ruin their relationship once and for all.
Peace captures the emotional roller coaster that sees every teenager as a passenger, and the film exposes the selfishness that is often rampant at that age, the raging hormones, the self doubt, and fears about the future. It’s not the most interesting story, but the writing and dialogue (screenplay by Jess Zeidman) is relatable, and the leads are appealing. It’s a dark comedy that’s sophisticated and honest, even if it feels like nothing more than two friends talking about their day-to-day existence while navigating their way through adolescence.
Setting the story within the Jewish community gives another layer of diversity too, and it opens the door to exploring deeper themes of Hannah and Carrie’s growing sexuality and what that means within the confines of religion. Of course the pair begin to question their faith and beliefs, but there’s something refreshingly different here. The story occasionally flips between animation and live action, which adds yet another dimension to the storytelling.
What I loved most about “Tahara” is the credible confidence from Peace, and especially in Zeidman’s thoughtful, perceptive screenplay. It’s slow at times, but overall this is a successful (and distinctive) coming-of-age film.