“The Romeows” is not a misspelled attempt to re-write Shakespeare. Nor does it have anything to do with cats. It is, in fact, a gentle, heart-warming film about the enduring friendship of a group of guys, members of the same Brooklyn College house plan (class of ’59). The title stands for “retired older men eating out Wednesdays.”
The group meets weekly for dinners that are part reminiscence, part philosophy and part therapy. Director Robert Sarnoff started to film them on a regular basis in 2008, as their 50th class reunion approached, and then shot them again in 2012.
There is something poignant about how they maintain their relationships (and still laugh at each other’s jokes) so many years after they first met. Clearly, the nourishment they get from these sessions fills their souls as well as their bellies.
In individual interviews and during their meals, they talk about everything from their mortality to the legacies they’ve left their children.
“The Romeows” will resonate with anyone who lived through that era, particularly New Yorkers who attended any of the tuition-free city colleges, all top ranked academically and important steps into the middle class and beyond for immigrants and their children.
Quoted in the production notes, Sarnoff said the audience attending an early screening reacted positively to the film, “but many questions led me to believe there was some confusion. Clarification was necessary.”
It still is. Some of it seems so basic, it’s surprising he didn’t figure this out himself. Perhaps because Sarnoff is also a Romeow, he was too close to the material to see the trees for the forest.
We learn very little about the Romeows themselves. What happened to them after school? What professions did they enter? Were they successful? Married? How long have they been meeting? Did they re-unite at some point long after graduation?
I’m not even sure how many active Romeows there are. There seems to be seven or eight. Who is the woman filmed at one of their meals and why is she there? One man labeled an “honorary” Romeow at a 2009 party tied to the class reunion says he has a disease which will likely kill him in three years. Yet he’s shown hale and healthy three years later without an explanation. That’s not kosher in a documentary.
And on the subject of Kosher: So many questions are unanswered, including the Romeows’ last names. According to the notes, with one exception, they all have Jewish surnames. But Jewish identity is never mentioned, which I find a little odd since at the time Brooklyn College (as were the other city colleges) was probably 90% Jewish.
Having said all that, I know at the film’s end, I wished I was a Romeow.
“The Romeows” opens in New YorkCity July 19.
Watch the trailer for ‘The Romeows’: