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Coming-of-age comedy resonates across generations

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In spite of immense social turmoil over the past few decades, the teenage experience of angst and uncertainty remains largely unchanged. Just Now Jeffrey is a coming-of-age comedy film set in Johannesburg in 1989, when South Africa was on the brink of overthrowing the apartheid regime.

Written and directed by Hylton Tannenbaum and Brett Morris, it follows the story of Jeffrey Greenbaum, a Jewish high school student navigating school life, social life, and love life. Above all, he and his best friend, Brad Berman, are on a mission to lose their virginity before finishing school. However, their plan goes awry, and they find themselves caught up in a series of hilarious misadventures involving “love, lust, videotape piracy, rugby violence, political protest, and pornography”.

Morris and Tannenbaum began their almost two-year writing process during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was a rollercoaster of a process. It’s fun, enjoyable, tough, painstaking, and fulfilling all at the same time,” they said, comparing the journey to climbing a massive mountain. “Having an incredible group of investors believing in the project and supporting us got us to the summit.”

The pair set out to represent their experience as teenagers growing up in 1980s South Africa, as well as to give a voice to the generation that grew up in South Africa towards the end of apartheid. “We found that South Africans were generally painted with the same brush,” they said, “and we wanted to show all of the complexity and nuances across the political spectrum during that time: from right to left, and everything in between.”

Making an independent film is no mean feat, and the creative team was faced with new challenges every day, be it creative, technical, or financial hurdles. “We soon realised that confronting the challenges was part of the process, and sometimes the obstacles were an opportunity to look at something differently and could even make the film better,” said the directors. “We were also lucky enough to work with some incredibly talented cast and crew, who put their hearts and souls into making it as good as it could possibly be. South Africa has world-class talent, and when the chips were down, they made magic happen.”

“Right from the outset, our guiding light was simply to make a film that we would enjoy watching,” said Morris. Julian Robinson, who played the film’s titular character, said he just wanted the audience to have fun. “It’s a little breather in between a lot of other movies where everything’s so sad and depressing. This film is one where you’re just allowed to have a fun time,” he said.

“We were trying to make a film quite outside the usual South African comedy,” said Robinson. “It’s very much out of left field. You don’t really expect to find a movie about a Jewish guy who’s just trying to get laid. It’s a strange, unique concept.”

Robinson said that having conversations with the directors was helpful when he was trying to get into character, as the film incorporated “snippets” of their lives, particularly during their youth. “It was their brainchild, and that helped a lot because on and off set, they were so accommodating and willing to talk and make it a collaborative process.” Some of the scenes were ad-libbed or adjusted during the filming process.

“I’m also around Jeffrey’s age, so I could sometimes look inward and grasp a little piece of my life that I thought would stitch well into Jeffrey’s character,” he said. Robinson was in matric when filming took place. “I did make things hard for myself,” he admits. However, he said the passion and support from the rest of the cast and creative team kept him going. “It may sound corny, but it felt kind of like a family. I roomed with a co-actor for five weeks while we were shooting, and it was fun just to go out and buy groceries and things together.”

According to the directors, the film’s initial screening had an overwhelmingly positive response from people of all ages, races and genders. “Everyone found something about the story that resonated with them – whether it was the era, their childhood, the community, or the characters.”

The film is filled with quips and anecdotes that are particularly relatable to those within the South African Jewish community, but can also resonate with the broader South African population. Audiences aren’t just reacquainted with familiar faces, such as Rob van Vuuren and Nik Rabinowitz, but are introduced to young new faces.

Just Now Jefferey will be released in cinemas around the country on 3 May.

  • Hanna Resnick is a former intern at the SA Jewish Report, now doing a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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