Just a single normal character would go a long way in Everything Is Illuminated, an aggressively quirky adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s hyperactively quirky novel. Both the book and the movie – which represents the directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber – revolve around such fanciful conceits as an obsessive-compulsive Jewish-American (Elijah Wood) trying to track down the woman who saved his grandfather from Nazis in what is now Ukraine; the contemporary Ukrainian grandfather and grandson – the younger one speaks in delightful malapropisms – who serve as his guides; and their jittery mongrel, named Sammy Davis Junior Junior. The calculated cleverness behind these characters felt strained on the page, and it nearly breaks on the screen. The cuteness also doesn’t quite fit with the larger themes at play, from the power of memories to nothing less than the generational repercussions of the Holocaust. Against this heavy
backdrop, the movie’s capriciousness feels like an indulgence.