Review: 'The Manor' is a house of frustration Special

Posted May 9, 2013 by Sarah Gopaul
'The Manor' is an intimate portrayal of a Jewish family battling serious health issues while trying to nurse the family business – a small town strip club – back into shape.
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As strip clubs are still considered a seedy business, most generally assume the owner is a smarmy little man in a suit, or a gangster. But who would ever guess a nice Jewish family? In The Manor, filmmaker Shawney Cohen explores the effect owning a gentlemen's club has had on his family.
Roger Cohen had 14 jobs before finally buying The Manor and the attached hotel. His Barbie doll wife, Brenda Cohen, had given him two sons, both of whom are employed at the club. The youngest, Sammy, is the manager and has worked there for 15 years; Shawney became the bar manager five years ago as he tried to figure out what to do with his life – guess he's still looking. Both parents have severe eating disorders, though they suffer from opposite extremes: she's wasting away and he's ballooning.
It sort of begins with the day in the life of a strip club owner: managing the scantily clad or naked, girls; paying bills; and mingling with customers. The seedier side of ownership includes docking dancers' pay; mediating arguments; drugs; and a car fire. Roger and Sammy are comfortable in this environment, though the stress of a struggling business is weighing heavier on the father.
It's unclear how Roger became a purveyor of flesh, but its profitability is obvious in the luxury home he owns. However, it's also evidenced in the issues with food both he and his wife suffer. Maybe because the man behind the camera is their blood, they are relatively candid about their feelings – though getting Brenda to have a serious discussion is like pulling teeth. Roger's addiction to food stems from a desire to enjoy his wealth, while Brenda feels the only part of her life she can control is her food intake. But as Shawney and on-camera prodding forces them to confront these issues, their outlooks begin to change.
Shawney generally employs an interview format, though he sometimes sets up a camera to the side to eavesdrop on a discussion. Because the subjects are his family, his involvement in the film doesn't seem intrusive or inappropriate.
Even though The Manor is an inescapable cloud over the family's existence, the documentary isn't about the strip club; it's about a family's desire to become physically and emotionally healthy again.
Director: Shawney Cohen