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Rob Edelman: Bernie Sanders, Best Supporting Actor

One might wonder why there is a “very long wait” if you are a Netflix subscriber and you wish to take a look at MY X-GIRLFRIEND’S WEDDING RECEPTION, an obscure low-budget comedy that dates from 1999. Surely, it is not because of the film’s cast, which includes Debbie Gibson, Dom DeLuise, Mo Gaffney, and a load of unfamiliar names. And surely, it is unrelated to one’s desire to be entertained by the very early screen appearances of future Oscar winners and superstars. If you wish, you can savor, for example, young unknown Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey costarring in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION. You can goof on the great George Clooney and his presences in RETURN TO HORROR HIGH and RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES!

So why is MY X-GIRLFRIEND’S WEDDING RECEPTION such a hot ticket? Well, playing a rabbi by the name of Manny Shevitz-- remember, this is a comedy-- is none other than Bernie Sanders. He is billed as “Congressman Bernie Sanders,” and a quick click on YouTube produced a two-plus minute clip of Sanders as yarmulke-clad Rabbi Manny addressing the wedding guests. He begins by observing, “Today we celebrate life: a very sacred part of life.” That’s fair enough, coming from a rabbi. But don’t forget, MY X-GIRLFRIEND’S WEDDING RECEPTION is a comedy, and so Rabbi Manny, after declaring that he, like the man who plays him, was born and raised in Brooklyn, immediately goes on a riff about the tragedy of the Dodgers leaving the Borough of Churches. Then, as if he is addressing a convention of sports fans rather than a wedding party, he segues into a criticism of baseball free agency.

After watching the clip, I noticed that it had amassed 183,031 YouTube views. Just two days later, that number had increased to 226,395. Somehow, I easily could imagine that, not too long ago, that number might have been 395 views. But these days, Bernie Sanders is big news-- and what is revealing about his performance is that, despite his silly dialogue, he comes off as the very same Bernie Sanders that we see giving speeches and discussing issues and debating Hillary Clinton. Now you can agree or disagree with Bernie Sanders but, while watching him in this 17 year old clip, I came away with the impression that he is no computer-generated politician. He is who he is. He is sincere. And in a culture in which too many politicians do little more than recite speeches, written by their staffers, whose content is based on the latest poll results rather than genuine ideology, this makes Bernie Sanders invigorating.

Here are some additional bits of Bernie Sanders trivia. He also appears in a second film: SWEET HEARTS DANCE, a 1988 Don Johnson-Susan Sarandon-Jeff Daniels-Elizabeth Perkins rom.com that was partially filmed in Vermont. Sanders appears uncredited as “Bernie.” For the record, he pops up onscreen at exactly six minutes and 41 seconds into the film. It’s Halloween. Kids and their parents are trick-or-treating. There’s a knock on a door, and who should open it but “Bernie.” He is on camera for maybe ten seconds.

Also, Lois Farber, a friend of mine, recently informed me that she “finally figured out who Bernie reminds me of.” And that is Al Pacino playing Big Boy Caprice in DICK TRACY, which dates from 1990. Lois also sent a couple of YouTube clips of Pacino delivering dialogue-- and you can see exactly what she means.

Rob Edelman has written several books on film, television, and baseball, and was a longtime Contributing Editor of Leonard Maltin’s annual Movie Guide. He teaches film history at the University at Albany.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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