You are cordially invited to the angst-iest of funerals by Olivia Peace, director of the teen melodrama, Tahara. The film examines life, death, and the grief that we experience in between while going through a roller-coaster of lighthearted comedy and intensely deep emotions. Clashing religious belief with the exploratory urges of adolescence, Tahara premiered at the 2020 Slamdance Film Festival where it was an official selection.
After the high school outcast commits suicide, two longtime friends — Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) and Hannah (Rachel Sennott) — find themselves stuck at her funeral. After attending the traditional Hebrew ceremony, the pair attend a discussion session designed to address grief and Judaism. Hannah is instead obsessed with getting the attention of her crush and enlists Carrie as a guinea pig to test her kissing skills. The innocent kiss opens up a closet of emotions, leading everyone in class to question their social ties, as well as themselves.
At first, Tahara seems as though it will be a slow-burner, aimless even, but somewhere along the way, the film hits its stride. I found myself getting teary-eyed at certain points where the story gets real and relates back to the social ooze that is high school and the turmoil of budding adulthood. It reminded me of The Breakfast Club in a few ways, except Tahara is decidedly modern, it is arguably even grittier emotionally, and the “vice-principal Vernon” character for this film stays in the room with the kids — awkward. As the characters grapple with life and death as teenagers, so too does the audience; I recalled my own feelings of pressure and isolation in high school and I was pulled into the film and left wanting more at the end.
Olivia Peace’s directing is spot-on for this story, her style for Tahara was fearless and imaginative, capturing youth’s disconnect with death, consequences, and each other. The film is a patchwork of techniques that mixes live-action with cartoon segues as well as stop-motion animation sequences at, particularly emotive moments. This method lightens up the heaviness of the film without taking away from it, like a palate cleanser during a really good meal. Comprised of a really good script from screenwriter Jess Zeidman, smart camera framing, and the cast’s excellent acting, all around, Tahara is a really good meal.
Tahara is a coming of age story that is refreshingly authentic in the way that it approaches very adult subjects with teen characters. The death of the “weird girl” is the catalyst for the death of other relationships due to cracks in the fragile teen personas being broken. Tahara is a well-made melodrama with darkly comedic wit that even sneaks in some mild body horror with a disgusting pimple pop — yuck! David Cronenberg would be proud.
MOVIE RATING — 7 out of 10 ☠️