PLOT Two women from London’s Orthodox Jewish community must hide their illicit relationship.
CAST Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola
RATED R (some explicit sexuality)
PLAYING AT Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington; Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE A riveting story about love, happiness and difficult choices. Flawless performances from Weisz and McAdams.
A forbidden romance lies at the center of “Disobedience,” Sebastián Lelio’s engrossing drama about two Orthodox Jewish women. One is lapsed and single, the other married within the faith, but as teenage girls they were in love, or something very much like it. Their meeting, after many years apart, will stir up a lifetime’s worth of complicated feelings.
Based on Naomi Alderman’s debut novel, “Disobedience” covers a lot of ground: It’s about religion and family, about difficult situations and tricky labels, about personal choice and the lack of it. The script, by Lelio (the Chilean director of last year’s Oscar-winning transgender drama “A Fantastic Woman) and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is full of beautiful little moments and observations, but what really makes “Disobedience” so compelling are its lead actresses, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. In career-best performances, these women command the screen in a way that few viewers could have predicted.
Weisz plays Ronit, a New York City photographer who puts her cosmopolitan life on hold to return to Hendon — an Orthodox neighborhood in London — and bury her estranged father, a rabbi. Weisz’s Ronit oozes secular rebellion: fashionable clothes, a slight smirk, an oh-so-casual cigarette. Conversely, her old friend Esti (McAdams) has married Dovid (an excellent Alessandro Nivola), a future pillar of the community; she looks stripped of color and life.
It’s one thing to see a pitch-perfect performance from Weisz, a versatile actress whose credits range from the screwball comedy “The Brothers Bloom” to the courtroom drama “Denial.” It’s another thing to see one from McAdams, so often cast as a passive object of (male) desire in treacly romances like “The Vow.” Here, she finally plays a woman who is emotionally complex and sexually aggressive; the film’s sole lovemaking scene, in an out-of-the-way hotel, is bold enough to rival anything in “Call Me By Your Name.” McAdams’ performance is simply a revelation: When Esti sneaks a drag of Ronit’s cigarette and flashes a cheeky smile, she somehow grows 20 years younger in an instant.
Once or twice, “Disobedience” juices up its drama with a too-pat moment. Overall, though, this riveting movie feels as messy and complicated as real life.