Two movie stars, Brandon Polansky and Samantha Elisofon, visited Israel late last month to promote their movie Keep the Change, which just opened in theaters throughout the country. The two have been interviewed quite a bit, which isn’t surprising since the movie, the directorial debut of Rachel Israel, was the surprise winner of the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2017, but they aren’t jaded.
Keep the Change
Perhaps Polansky, who wore his shades at an advance screening at the Lev Smadar theater in Jerusalem and cracked jokes with the timing of a born stand-up comedian, and Elisofon, who was glowing and lovely in an elegant sundress, haven’t gotten burned out doing publicity because they believe in Keep the Change so much.
is the first movie about a romance between two people with autism that features two lead actors who are actually on the spectrum themselves.
But although these performers have autism, make no mistake about it: they move audiences all over the world to laughter and tears because they are amazing actors, not because they happen to have autism.
And like any actors in a hit film, they are happy to talk about their movie.
“Rachel [Israel, the writer/director] was always there for me,” said Polansky, who has been friends with Israel for years. “When I met a girl and then we broke up, she realized there was a story there. She made my story... I was depressed. Acting compensates for all the horrible s***.”
While much of the movie was inspired by Polansky, who is incredibly funny and brilliant – his references in our interview ranged from Donald Trump and “the United States of Embarrassment,” Emmett Till (an African-American teenager who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955), Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character from Saturday Night Live
in the Nineties and so much more (including a few unprintable but hilarious jokes) – he wants people to know one key way in which he is very different from David, the character he plays in the film.
David is sentenced to attend a program for people with autism at the Manhattan JCC – yes, this may be the first rom-com in history set in large part at a JCC – because he got into trouble with the law by making pig jokes to police officers.
“I’m not dumb enough to tell a pig joke to a cop,” he said. “I’m a white Jewish boy from New Jersey, we matter, too... Jewish lives matter.”
In one of the movie’s saddest scenes, David screams insults at a homeless man, and Polansky admitted he could relate to this.
“I was cursing at the homeless guy, but I was really feeling sorry for myself, feeling angry at myself.”
Like his character in the film, Polansky has faced quite a bit of rejection in the online dating scene and has learned to weather the criticism he gets via the Internet from haters.
“People say, ‘You’re a bum, why don’t you get a job at McDonald’s?’”
But in spite of Polansky’s intelligence, he does face real challenges, like the vocal tics where he makes loud noises in the middle of a sentence, that would make most employment very difficult.
“Oh, no, they’re going to throw me out,” he said at one point, glancing around the cafe, but was reassured when he was told that loud noises aren’t such a big deal in Israel.
Elisofon, who is very involved in musical theater, is playing Lucy in a production of You’re a Good Man
, Charlie Brown
, for the Epic Players, an inclusive theater company, and is also in rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.
“It’s not a pity party,” she says, “you have to audition. They pay you for your time and your talent.”
She also performs with Dreamstreet Theatre Company, another inclusive troupe based in Brooklyn.
Her career is a “mix and match” of singing and drama.
“Numerous dreams have come true for me,” she said.
She’s enjoyed very much traveling the world with Keep the Change
and happily lists the places the film has taken her, among them Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco, West Palm Beach and Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, home of one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, where the movie won a special mention in the Best Debut category.
One of the ways in which Elisofon is different from her character, Sarah, is that she “doesn’t overshare” details about sex.
“I’m more private-oriented.”
Another aspect of the movie that is a complete departure from their lives is its portrayal of their families. In the film, David’s mother, played by Jessica Walter, the actress who was the psycho killer opposite Clint Eastwood in Play Misty for Me
– a credit that impresses Polansky: “Jessica Walter doesn’t stalk Clint Eastwood in this movie” – is cold and controlling. Sarah’s parents aren’t around at all and she lives with her alcoholic grandmother. But Elisofon and Polansky’s families, who traveled to Israel with them, are extremely supportive and proud.
“They never stopped advocating for me,” said Elisofon.
The actors and their families sat in the cafe at Lev Smadar during the movie, but all went inside for the Q&A that followed.
In spite of some problems with the microphone, Polansky and Elisofon carried it off like the seasoned performers they are.
“I never get tired of acting. I’m an ambassador/advocate/performing artist,” said Elisofon in her high, delicate voice, as Polansky consented to remove his shades for just a moment.