May 24, 2019

Hello, Beanie: Feldstein Having a Moment With ‘Dolly’ and ‘Lady Bird’

Beanie Feldstein. Photo courtesy of Beanie Feldstein

Feldstein’s older brother Jordan Feldstein died on Dec. 22 of a heart attack at age 40. He worked as a talent manager in the music industry.

Actress Beanie Feldstein recalled that her bat mitzvah — which, of course, had a theater theme — took place 10 years to the day prior to the release of her cinematic debut, the 2016 Seth Rogen comedy “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” In that film, she plays a hard-partying freshman sorority girl, a very different role than her current one in “Lady Bird.”

“Lady Bird,” a coming-of-age story, follows a Catholic high school senior, played by Saoirse Ronan, who cannot wait to leave her hometown of Sacramento for New York. Feldstein portrays the title character’s theater-loving best friend.

“Lady Bird” earned Oscar buzz as well as four Golden Globe nominations, including best picture in the comedy or musical category.

Feldstein said she also was grateful for the opportunity to portray her first dramatic role.

“I loved ‘Lady Bird’ so much because it [drew on] a much more vulnerable side of me than I was asked to bring forward [previously],” she said. “I was so nervous and excited to tap into that side of myself, after doing things more strictly comedic.”

Feldstein, 24, spoke to the Journal from New York while in the midst of her show business breakthrough moment, thanks to “Lady Bird” and her current Broadway role as shopgirl Minnie Fay opposite Bette Midler in the musical “Hello, Dolly!”

Feldstein’s acting career perhaps was inevitable. … One of her brothers is actor Jonah Hill, who is nine years older.

“I just feel so incredibly grateful,” she said. “I can’t believe this is all happening. Broadway is such a beautiful community, both with the people who do it and the people who go see it. [It’s] been such an exceptional experience getting to enter that beautiful world. And the reception of the film has just been — I’m, like, smiling so wide right now.”

Feldstein’s acting career perhaps was inevitable. She was raised in West Los Angeles by a mother who is a costume designer and a father who is an entertainment accountant. One of her brothers is actor Jonah Hill, who is nine years older. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said she never felt competitive with Hill as she had grown up with
theater ambitions, not film. Her other brother, the late Jordan Feldstein, died last month.

At age 2, her favorite movie was “Funny Girl,” in which Barbra Streisand plays theater and film actress Fanny Brice. For Feldstein’s third birthday, her mother made her a replica of Brice’s leopard coat and hat from the film.

Feldstein’s summers were spent at the esteemed theater camp Stagedoor Manor. Throughout her childhood and into young adulthood, she also performed in multiple shows every year.

“It was pretty clear I had a love for musicals and dressing up and all that stuff,” she said.   “I just fell in love. I was obsessed. It brought me joy.”

Feldstein’s real first name is Elizabeth. She got her nickname from a British nanny who called her ‘Elizabeanie.’ Her brothers ran with it and called her ‘Beanie.’ The name stuck.

Her love of singing comes from her father, Richard, who plays guitar when not crunching numbers for professional musicians.

Feldstein brought that passion to her synagogue, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. Growing up, she said, she sang as a junior cantor on Yom Kippur, and she performed the blessing “Sim Shalom” with the temple’s former cantor, Yonah Kliger.

“I know this was a dream of hers from the time she was a little girl. And to see her fulfilling that dream is a very special thing, especially as one of her teachers,” said Kliger, who officiated her bat mitzvah.

Feldstein attended high school at the prestigious Harvard-Westlake School, where one of her classmates was Ben Platt, who won the 2017 Tony Award for best lead actor in a musical for his starring role in “Dear Evan Hansen.” The two remain close friends and have been a support network for each other in New York.

And she described his mother, Julie Platt, the board director of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, as a “second mom.”

Feldstein left Los Angeles after high school and attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where she graduated with a sociology degree in 2015.

In college, she focused on writing. Feldstein recently returned to the medium after publishing an essay about her weight for Refinery29, a digital media platform for young women. In the piece, titled “Please Stop Complimenting Me on My Body,” she discusses how she struggled with her weight when she was younger but ultimately came to terms with her physique. Now that she has lost weight due to the physical demands of being on Broadway, people are giving her uninvited compliments.

“I was naturally a little bit nervous to put something so personal out there, but it’s been a very loving experience,” she said of publishing the essay. “I hope to write more.”

“Lady Bird’s” message of not being appreciative of home until one has left it behind has resonated with Feldstein. The movie’s writer-director, Greta Gerwig, “so beautifully captures that moment of just starting to appreciate your home as you are about to leave it,” Feldstein said.

She recalled Gerwig instructing her, “ ‘I wrote this girl, but you’re the person who’s going to fill her up and … bring her to life.’ ”

“My dream would be to be mentored by Greta, and I’m sure she would read anything I have to write because we have become very close,” Feldstein said.

While her circumstances have changed a lot over the course of the year, Judaism continues to play an important role in her life.

“I think we’re a very culturally Jewish family, and … there is a beautiful sense of community in Judaism,” Feldstein said. “I love that.”

‘The Wolf’ and the Jewish problem

“The Wolf of Wall Street” is nauseating, pornographic and soul-crushing — and you have to see it.

You have to see it, because you — meaning society, Jews, all of us as individuals — have to face the questions it raises about money, wealth and morality. 

Director Martin Scorsese is taking some heat for depicting Jordan Belfort as a likable rogue. Yes, Belfort lies, steals and snorts avalanches of coke off naked tushees, but he loves his dad, has a great run and, after all, he’s Leonardo DiCaprio.  A generation of young men will now flock to Wall Street aping Belfort, just as a generation of drug dealers took their cues from Al Pacino in “Scarface.”  

I don’t blame Scorsese. His genius is to examine society’s most grievous sins through its most colorful practitioners. True, he doesn’t show the effects of Belfort’s crimes on their victims — the families wrecked by financial loss and legal troubles, the people who fell for the cons and paid with their nest eggs. Then again, the movie is told entirely from Belfort’s point of view, and Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter probably assumed Belfort has never spent two seconds thinking about the human suffering he caused — unless it was his own.

[Related: DiCaprio defends ‘Wolf of Wall Street’]

But I do regret that Scorsese chose not to deal with the fact that Jordan Belfort is Jewish. Although some of the characters in “Wolf,” like Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff, are clearly portrayed as Jews, even to the point of wearing chai necklaces around their coke-frosted necks, Belfort, with his Anglo looks and Frenchy name, is left to be simply American. I get it: To do otherwise might give the movie a whiff of anti-Semitic caricature. Scorsese feels much safer depicting the Italian-ness of his violent mobsters than the Jewishness of his greedy con men.

But, just between us, let’s talk about Belfort-the-Jew — let’s go there. In the movie, you never really understand how someone so gifted can be so morally unmoored. But in his memoir, upon which the movie is based, whenever Belfort refers to his Jewish roots, the diagnosis becomes more apparent. 

He is a kid from Long Island. His dad, Max, grew up “in the old Jewish Bronx, in the smoldering economic ashes of the Great Depression.” Belfort didn’t grow up poor by any means, he just wasn’t rich enough. The hole in him wasn’t from poverty, but from desire for acceptance. The “blue-blooded WASPs,” Belfort writes, “viewed me as a young Jewish circus attraction.” 

Belfort had a chip on his shoulder the size of a polo pony, and so did everyone he recruited. They were, he writes, “the most savage young Jews anywhere on Long Island: the towns of Jericho and Syosset. It was from out of the very marrow of these two upper-middle-class Jewish ghettos that the bulk of my first hundred Strattonites had come….”

It’s not complicated, really. Poor little Jordan wanted to show those WASPs whose country clubs he couldn’t join that he was smarter, richer, better. What he failed to understand is that just about every Jew, every minority, shares the same impulses. But only a select few decide the only way to help themselves is to hurt others.   

Belfort, like Bernie Madoff, is an extreme example. These are guys who feel they have nothing, they are nothing, so they will do anything to acquire everything. They cross a pretty clear line and just keep going.

The question that gnaws at me is whether there’s something amiss in the vast gray area that leads right up to that line. Are the Belforts and Madoffs unnatural mutations, or are they inevitable outgrowths of attitudes that have taken root in our communities? We don’t, as a community, like to talk about money and wealth and how to acquire it and how to spend it. A Madoff affair happens — a crime that devastates thousands of people, businesses and philanthropies, many of them in the heart of the Jewish community — and we hardly speak about it anymore.  

These days, we are deep in the pit arguing over the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of Israeli academics and whether Jewish students at Swarthmore College’s Hillel should open their doors to anti-Zionist speakers. We have devoted so many smart words and fiery sermons to these issues, you’d think the entire Jewish future depended upon them. Never mind that there are bridge clubs bigger than the ASA, and that the State of Israel, with its history, power and genius, may just survive the withering onslaught of a panel discussion in suburban Pennsylvania. The Jewish world never lacks for turbulent conversations. My only concern is whether they’re the right ones. Talking about Israel is easy — talking about money is uncomfortable.

But these are the conversations we need to be having. What’s the right way to make money? How much is enough? How much must we share, and with whom? We are blessed to be living at a time of unparalleled Jewish power and wealth, and it makes us so uneasy, we prefer to talk about everything but. We have benefited from an economic and political structure that is becoming less and less just. We are enjoying unprecedented wealth as millions struggle on minimum wages, facing hunger, unemployment, benefit cuts, homelessness. We look to our rabbis and institutions for guidance, but too many of them are afraid to upset the wealthy donors upon whom they are dependent. So we talk instead about Israel, about Swarthmore, and our communities become breeding grounds for the next Madoff, the next Belfort.

That’s not a movie. That’s a shame. 


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Watch: New ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ trailer

Those of you who like a little Jewish white-collar crime with your Chinese food will be pleased by the Christmas Day release of Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street.”

The film is based on the memoir of the same name by Jordan Belfort, a stock swindler-turned motivational speaker and one-time (that we know of, anyway) donner of tefillin.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Belfort in his high-living, shady-dealing heyday. Think “Goodfellas” meets “Boiler Room.” Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey co-star.

Here, to whet your appetite, the brand-new trailer.

Profile: Josh Neuman

It might raise an eyebrow or two that Josh Neuman, former editor and publisher of Heeb magazine — the irreverent, youth-oriented Jewish magazine that shut down its print operations in 2010 — is now in charge of editorial content at GOOD, a multiplatform media outlet dedicated to helping “people who give a damn” do well by doing good. 

GOOD, a lifestyle magazine for the well-intentioned (but not overly self-righteous), might seem a strange fit for a guy who brought the world a view of Sarah Silverman’s breasts — seen through a hole in a bed sheet — and who had Jonah Hill photographed holding a well-lubricated bagel. 

But Neuman has grown up some since those early days of deliberate Jewish-informed provocation. He moved to Los Angeles. He turned 40. He got married. He’s about to resume work on a long-simmering short-film project about his younger brother, a would-be punk rocker who died of leukemia right around the time Heeb was getting off the ground. 

And since July, Neuman has been working as head of programming and editorial director at GOOD, which last month officially launched its new online platform, good.is, while still putting out a quarterly magazine. Neuman said he’s hoping to bring to GOOD part of the playbook that worked for him at Heeb, which will mean treating readers not as an “audience” but as part of a “community.” It will also mean spending as much energy on planning the next party, conference or Web video series as on publishing words and pictures.

“Heeb wasn’t something that resided on the page,” Neuman said, sitting in GOOD’s Wilshire Boulevard office earlier this month. “It was something that happened in real time.” (Full disclosure: This reporter was at one time an unpaid occasional contributor to Heeb.)

In June, when Neuman’s predecessor, Ann Friedman, was fired from GOOD, along with six of her editorial colleagues, it seemed to many media watchers that GOOD was about to reside less on the page and more in real time — and on the Web — than ever before. 

The move made waves, in part because of how the news was delivered to the employees — at a meeting the day after a party celebrating the publication of the Summer 2012 issue — but also because magazine lovers saw it as the demise of yet another journalistic outlet. (“BAD! Major Editorial Layoffs Hit GOOD,” wailed one blog’s headline.) 

Neuman said he has been a fan of GOOD since its beginning — in 2007, co-founder Ben Goldhirsh was featured as one of the “Heeb 100” list — and Neuman says he is still committed to journalism, even if he’s not quite sanguine about the sustainability of the print model. 

“As much as print is dead, Adbusters launched Occupy, and Mother Jones got that ‘47 percent’ video,” Neuman said. 

But Neuman, who was teaching philosophy of religion as an adjunct professor at NYU when he joined the Heeb editorial team, said he intends to steer GOOD in a direction that won’t include the kind of long-form journalism of the magazine’s previous incarnation. 

“For the former editorial board, GOOD just meant journalism,” Neuman said. “For me, journalism is one of many ways to deploy interesting content.”

It’s worth noting that Friedman, who declined to comment for this article, doesn’t appear to have arrived at GOOD an overly sentimental editor attached to traditional journalism and deaf to the needs of the Web, either. 

“Here, we all understand that ‘magazine’ doesn’t refer to the paper-and-ink product sitting on your coffee table,” Friedman wrote in a post on good.is that appears to date back to when she started as executive editor, around March 2011. “It’s also a way of describing a community and daily reading experience.”

What shape GOOD will take in the coming years remains to be seen, but Neuman talked  less about the upcoming print issues of GOOD — the Winter 2012 issue is set to include the GOOD 100, a list not unlike the one Neuman was known for at Heeb — than about the work taking shape on GOOD’s new Internet platform. 

Posts are organized into two categories: Learns, which teach and inform, and Dos, which are aimed at spurring readers to some kind of action — anything from moving their cell phones and tablets out of their bedrooms to signing an anti-corruption pledge to get the money out of politics. 

“Anyone can submit Learns and Dos,” Neuman said. From there, a team of about eight full-time editorial staff based all around the country, called curators — “kind of the midpoint between an old-school editor and a community organizer,” Neuman said — take the content and present it on GOOD’s platform, alongside their own writings and any new content that the magazine commissions. 

One of the newest bits of original content — a Web video featuring actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” — is part of a GOOD campaign urging voters to “Take Back Tuesday,” and “make voting less of a pain in the ass.” 

And on the other side of the technological spectrum, GOOD subscribers will soon receive a packet of postcards in their mailboxes, each one with a rumination on the history of good. 

Both comprise GOOD’s coupling of learning and doing. The video is part of a multipost series urging readers to turn Election Day into a national holiday. The postcards are designed to be sent by the recipient to another person — “Send this to a politician who puts people before politics,” reads the legend at the bottom of the postcard about direct democracy. 

And both fit neatly into the overall framework of GOOD’s goal of being a community dedicated to organizing active citizens by deploying various media, which is, Neuman pointed out, exactly what he did with Jews and Heeb — mobilize a community of people with a shared interest in Judaism, pushing them to have fun together on a weekday evening or a Christmas Eve. 

Among Neuman’s curators at GOOD are some journalists he worked with at Heeb. He said that everyone he’s hired is very much on board with the new model for what GOOD is becoming. 

“Maybe it’s just because it’s a job, so they’re excited about anything,” Neuman said, “but a lot of them say, ‘I think this may be the future of journalism.’ ”