The other day, I was invited to a screening of a new, 11-part webseries, Dude, Where's My Chutzpah?, a one-woman circus (with a lot of help from her friends) by Jessie Kahnweiler, who wrote, directed, produced and stars in the series as...Jessie Kahnweiler. The webseries will run on YouTube.
The premise is that the exuberant, but unfocused Jessie has been left something in her grandmother's will, but to get it, she has to "live Jewish" for a year. Most webseries, especially those that spring from one person, tend to be fairly limited in scope. The "I have an idea and a camera" sort of thing that takes place in one or two rooms. But Dude, Where's My Chutzpah?, while clearly made on a budget is pretty expansive, roaming all over Los Angeles and then travels overseas, when she takes a trip to Israel.
Each episode is only 2-3 minutes, and the series is a combination of scripted material mixed with real-world documentary, like when she goes to the West Bank and hits on soldiers patrolling the area. Ultimately, some real issues unrelated to the filming do crop up, and (as happens on-screen) they actually get tear-gassed -- which leads to her ad-libbed line to the soldiers, "I'm on a diet, could you used the low-cal tear gas?"
Most of the webseries is comic, though not everything, most notably a wonderful episode where Jessie meets a real Holocaust survivor, Albert, an elderly man who's full of life, though with a harrowing story to tell. The episodes in Los Angeles are generally fun (most notably when she's invited to an orthodox family's home for a Sabbath, and the family has to keep telling her to be quiet during the service. Jessie talks a lot), but it becomes most interesting once she arrives in Israel, making her way through markets, Palestine, to the Wailing Wall and more. The series gets a little unfocused at times, though there's a liveliness, spark and rash of quips enough to overcome the lapses.
Mainly, though, it's Jessie Kahnweiler who shines through. She has such an outgoing personality that it's hard not to enjoy the ride with her. The character she's crafted (and despite the similarity in names, it is a character. We've met -- her grandfather and my dad are long-time friends -- and though she's definitely outgoing, she's also far more lowkey, thoughtful and surprisingly shy) is sort of a cross between Sarah Silverman and Zooey Deschanel -- annoyingly likeable. But it's all Jessie. Adding to the charm is that she clearly has no qualms about humiliating herself, and coming across the goofball, because ultimately the jokes are almost all on her.
More than just her personality and acting, though, what leaps out is how talented she is, all around. Even when everything doesn't work and needs a bit of reining in, it's clear that you're watching someone with her hand on her craft at a young age, who has a strong future. And I do suspect she has a future, because pulling this off, on all those levels, is no easy trick, for anyone, let alone a young woman in Hollywood. Pulling this off, on all these levels -- just raising the money, alone, never mind wearing all the hats -- suggests that Jessie Kahnweiler is not someone who takes, "No. Get out of my office. Guards, throw her out," for an answer. And in the end, the webseries is quite well-directed, entertainingly written and richly-produced for such a small budget, and she's a hoot on screen.
I had an interesting thought while watching the full webseries. At times I found myself curious to see what subtleties of performance an established director could bring out of her. But then I think that this is someone who has a deeply strong sense of self, in what she does, what she wants to do, and how to bring that out, in somewhat the way Woody Allen in his early films knew what worked best for the character of Woody Allen. I'm not making an artistic comparison, that wouldn't be fair. But there is a connection in the process. And ultimately, it's that future that I more look forward to seeing -- an artist who has a clear idea of what she wants to do, and why, rather than wedged into someone else's view. Both can be wonderful. But Ms. Kahnweiler's view at the moment seems the most interesting to anticipate.
The webseries has just gone live today with the first three episodes. The first is below. If you want to check out the YouTube channel for the series, and the other episodes, you can find it here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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