Don’t worry, it’s kosher,” ex-Hasid Yankel (Spencer Chandler) tells just-left-the-fold Mendy (Ivan Sandomire) before pushing his friend to swallow a pill. But notwithstanding that sensational come-on—or the tagline included in the film’s publicity materials (“You can reach ecstasy by prayer . . . or you can buy it on the street”)—Mendy emerges as a judicious, if blunt, examination of one man’s crisis of faith. Motivated as much by lust as by simple curiosity, Mendy leaves Williamsburg and moves in with tattooed Yankel—who, despite frequenting strip clubs and forever offering to get Mendy laid with a shiksa, still keeps the Sabbath, davens with tefillin, and in his own way, considers himself a decent Jew. His Brazilian roommate Bianca (Gabriela Dias) provides Mendy’s gateway into a saner secular world, exposing the gaps in his education and introducing him to both his first cheeseburger—which his body rejects—and his first love.
Inspired by a 1997 Voice article on ex-members of the Satmar sect, Mendy is cast largely with Orthodox or former Orthodox actors, who are utterly credible with dialogue that necessarily teeters between the candid and the offen- sive. (They also move fluidly between Yiddish and English.) An atmosphere of exploitation pervades, particularly when Mendy’s financial desperation is parlayed into a drug trade opportunity, but Mendy‘s ultimate message is more empathetic than outrageous. The last scene expresses simply and eloquently that devotion is where you find it.