There’s something lovely about a son paying tribute to his parents. Filmmaker Marvin Samel clearly loves his folks, with a special fascination about his father. Now, not everyone can go out and make a movie about their parental units, so that sets him apart. Of course, it easily could be a vanity project, but luckily iMordecai just a very cute love letter. It’s harmless and slight, but with a solid ability to put a smile on your face.
iMordecai has small scale ambitions, so it’s not hard to see it as a small scale comedy/dramedy success. To be sure, Samel hit a home run with casting his father (more on that below), but he’s largely found the right story to tell here. He gets lost in the weeds on occasion, but there’s never a moment where his affection and admiration for the people who raised him doesn’t shine through.
Mordecai Samel (Judd Hirsch) is a Holocaust survivor, but these days, he’s just trying to survive the boredom of retirement. A former handyman, he still takes to plumbing jobs, much to the chagrin of his stressed out son Marvin (Sean Astin). He loves his parents, and even works with his father on his budding cigar company, but he’s also driven mad by Mordecai. Almost daily, he’s getting into some sort of shenanigans that has Marvin tearing his hair out.
As Marvin tries to close his deal, Mordecai begins to connect with the young employees who are teaching him about his iPhone. Learning about the phone, they’re also learning about his past. Marvin is in the dark about that, but when his mother/Mordecai’s wife Fela (Carol Kane) shows signs of dementia, it pushes them in new directions.
Judd Hirsch is a lot of fun here, finding both the laughs and the heart in his character. It’s not quite as memorable a turn as in The Fabelmans, but this is more of a lead/co-lead than a scene-stealing supporting tun. His chemistry with Sean Astin is fun, especially as the latter gets exasperated. Astin is a bit one-note, but Hirsch is a true highlight. In addition to a solid but under-used Carol Kane, the cast includes Stephanie J. Block, Azia Dinea Hale, Nick Puga, and Brandon Sirota.
Co-writer/director Marvin Samel is pouring his heart and soul into this. His direction is fairly ordinary, but it always goes back to Hirsch. Samel, along with his co-writers Rudy Gaines and Dahlia Heyman, are able to keep you laughing, even when they get emotional. A somewhat bloated running time slightly dilutes the final product, but there’s much more in iMordecai that works than doesn’t. Of course, Hirsch is chief among that, but the drive from Samel isn’t far behind.
iMordecai isn’t looking to change the world, but it means the world to its filmmaker, and that rubs off on the audience. Even if you’re just in it for Hirsch, it makes a great one-two punch with The Fabelmans. However, if you let Samel into your heart, you’ll easily see how his family, and particularly his father, makes his heart beat.