Recently out of art school, the lead character of the film, Sarabeth (Marla Sokoloff) gets a job as a waitress and begins her struggle as a New York City artist. With her angsty and cynical personality, she doesn’t have much patience for her family—a nagging mother, a father who is always misquoting Kafka, one sister who just got pregnant with her sweet but dopey husband, and another sister who is ‘perfect’ until she announces she’s a lesbian at Rosh Hashanah dinner. And then there’s her boyfriend Simon (Rob Mcelhenney), whose choice to live in the suburbs with a great sound system instead of hip and unpredictable New York has given Sarabeth doubts about their future together. She uses her canvas as an escape, where she can make sense of it all.
The Tollbooth tackles serious Jewish issues as they present themselves to a politically liberal, anti-traditional, feminist post-graduate. As frustrated as Sarabeth is that she grew up being constantly reminded of relatives who died in the Holocaust, and no matter how much she hates going to synagogue, the truth is that she’s Jewish and she will always be Jewish. The struggle to escape her roots is impossible, so she’s forced to integrate a 5,000-year-old religion into her modern life.
This epiphany comes to Sarabeth when she finds herself feeling out of place at a 4th of July barbecue. She is a little-black-dress-wearing, wine drinking, daughter-of-an-anti-patriot; among pastel colors, beer and fire works. And ultimately considers herself a "sore thumb". But when she overhears one of the party’s guests make an anti-Semitic comment, and realizes she doesn’t want to fit it in to this crowd, and that she is proud of her heritage.
For those not familiar with socio-economic structure of New York City this film’s dialogue may came off as funny. However to viewers that have experienced life in the city, will understand that the living situations described are real. When Sarabeth tells her waitress friend that she’s moving into a walk-in closet, they tell her she should be grateful because at least she’ll have a door. "I haven’t had a door since I moved to New York," one girl says, "I live in a studio with six other dancers."
The Tollbooth accurately depicts New York City’s art scene. As a waitress, Sarabeth observes that the creative types that she works with have been chasing their dreams to be professional working artists for the past 5 to 10 years—in the meantime they continue to wait tables. Sarabeth herself has a hard time with her art. Galleries couldn’t care less about her, and the professor who promised to help her make connections won’t return her calls.
But a career isn’t the only thing that plagues a young woman setting out on her life: Sarabeth’s boyfriend can be just as stressful. He suggests that Sarabeth move to the suburbs to be with him, and while she would enjoy paying cheaper rent, she could not bear the thought of leaving the city.
At a pivotal moment, when she feels like she’s deciding the rest of her life, Sarabeth hears the famously wise words of the Jewish sage Hillel and remembers her mother’s oft-repeated advice. Armed with the combined wisdom of her Jewish heritage and her family, Sarabeth is ready to forge ahead, making her own decisions and living her life the best she can, in her own way.Marla Sokoloff as Sarabeth Cohen
Tovah Feldshuh as Ruthie Cohen
Ronald Guttman as Isaac Cohen
Idina Menzel as Raquel Cohen-Flaxman
Rob McElhenney as Simon Stanton
Jayce Bartok as Howie Flaxma
Liz Stauber as Becky Cohen