Jews in the News: Josh Gad, Natalie Portman and June Squibb

B&B Returns; This Time Live!

The “tale as old as time” returns to theaters in a new live-action film. This “Beauty and the Beast” is not an adaptation of the hit 1994 Broadway stage version—but a new re-imagining of the story as told in the beloved 1991 animated film musical. Advance reviews say it’s quite good, but some parts of the story and some songs had more “magic” in the animated version. (Opens Friday, March 17)

The title characters (Belle and the Beast) are played by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. Kevin Kline plays Maurice, Belle’s eccentric, but lovable father (Kline’s father was Jewish, but he was raised in his mother’s Catholic faith).  Other major supporting actors include Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor (whose children are being raised in his wife’s Jewish faith).

JOSH GAD, 36, plays LeFou, the flunky of Belle’s other suitor, Gaston. Disney says that LeFou is an explicitly gay character in the new film and that, of course, has attracted some controversy. However, like beauty, “explicit” appears to be in the eye of the beholder. LeFou dances with another man at the end of the film—which Gad says is “subtle, but incredibly effective" [in showing he's gay]. The “Variety” reviewer differed: “Josh Gad plays Gaston’s worshipful stooge as maximally silly and fawning, but I must have missed the memo where that spells ‘gay.’”

The great original film songs, all of which appear in this version, were written by composer ALAN MENKEN, now 67, and lyricist HOWARD ASHMAN (1950-1991).  Four new songs, written just for this film, were penned by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice.  Meanwhile, Menken has another hit now running on Broadway—a musical version of the film, “A Bronx Tale” (1993). It opened in November to glowing reviews. It’s score is much more rock and roll than the “Beauty” score.

As an editorial note---I don’t think that the gay community gains much from an “arguably” gay character who, as “Variety” says, is “silly and fawning” and the stooge of Gaston, a handsome idiot.  Howard Ashman, who was gay, was “no LeFou.”  He and Menken revived the Disney animated musical with “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty”.  He was also a playwright, and although he was not a credited screenwriter of “Beauty,” everyone agrees that he vastly improved the original script—with comedy—and with the shaping of “the Beast’s” tragedy.

Like the Beast—Ashman was afflicted with a “curse” (AIDS) that drastically altered his physical appearance. But he courageously worked to get every film detail right even as his death neared (he died just before the film’s opening). As many have perceptively pointed out, the “Beauty” song, “Kill the Beast,” has a poignant AIDS subtext in the lyrics that references the AIDS hysteria of the 1980s and ‘90s. Gaston sings about the need to end the Beast's life despite his ignorance of his condition. Here’s two apt lines:

‘We don't like what we don't understand and in fact it scares us, and this monster is mysterious at least / Bring your guns, bring your knives, save children and your wives, we'll save our village and our lives.’"

In other words, within the constraints of working within the plot of a fairy tale, and the politics of 1991, Ashman subtlety made a strong point. I wish Disney had found another way, in 2017, to “celebrate inclusiveness” other than making a fool character “sort of gay.”

Portman Co-Stars

Word is that Terence Malick’s new film, “Song to Song,” is much lighter than most of his prior film work. The setting is the Austin, Texas music scene. We follow two entangled couples as they chase success. One couple (Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara) are struggling songwriters. The other couple is a music mogul (Michael Fassbender) and the waitress he “ensnares” (NATALIE PORTMAN, 35.) The impressive cast includes Cate Blanchett, Iggy Pop, and Patti Smith. Opens Mar. 17

No doubt, the cinematography will be gorgeous since the cinematographer is the great EMMANUEL LUBEZKI, 52. He won three best cinematography Oscars in a row, from 2013-2015, and he is the only person to do this (“Gravity,” “Birdman,” and “The Revenant”).

Oldest Guest Star Duo, Ever?

JUNE SQUIBB, 87, and Hal Holbrook, 92, will guest star as a married couple in an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” that will first air on March 23 (Thursday; 8:30PM, NBC). Squibb was Oscar-nominated for best supporting actress for “Nebraska.” By the way, Holbrook is still touring his one-man stage show, “Mark Twain Tonight!” He began touring in it in 1954!


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