A Jewish cantor is torn between his upbringing and the lure of fame and fortune. New York cantor Yussel Rabinovitch writes song for a black vocal group on the side to raise extra money for himself and wife Rivka. When a member of the black group can't make a performance, Yussel agrees to stand in for him in blackface, no doubt a reference to 1927 original "The Jazz Singer." When a patron at the club notices that Yussel's hands aren't black, a riot breaks out. The band is arrested, and Yussel's father has to bail them out. Yussel explains that Jess Robin is his stage name. His father reminds him that his singing voice is for God's purposes.
Yussel's best friend Bubba informs him that his band has gotten a gig in Los Angeles. Shortly after Bubba leaves, Yussel starts writing "Love On The Rocks." Later, Bubba calls from Los Angeles to let him know that rock musician Keith Lennox need him to oversee the recording session for "Love On The Rocks." Though his father and wife oppose the trip, Cantor Rabinovitch relents. Yussel is met in California by music agent Molly Bell, and on arriving at the recording studio, are surprised to see Keith Lennox recording Yussel's song in a hard rock format. When Yussel is allowed to sing the song the way intended, Lennox kicks Yussel, his friends and Molly out.
By the time Rivka heads out west in an attempt to bring Yussel back, he has gotten some gigs. Afterward, Rivka tries to give Yussel an ultimatum and runs off.
Yussel and Molly fall in love and move in together, to the dismay of Cantor Rabinovitch when he comes to visit Yussel. When Yussel breaks the news that he and Rivka are getting a divorce, his father performs keriah, the tearing of a piece of clothing over the heart in mourning of a dead loved one. He storms off declaring that he has no son.
In the recording studio, Yussel takes his upset out on the band. Molly informs Bubba that she's pregnant, and he advises her not tell him yet. Yussel argues with Molly and storms out. She stops Bubba from going after him, telling him Yussel must work things out on his own. He drives his car till it runs out of fuel, and he works for several months in a country bar to survive. Bubba tracks him down and tells him of the birth of his son. Yussel returns to Molly and gets a gig in New York. Cantor Rabinovitch's best friend Leo asks Yussel to stand in for his father during Yom Kippur services, due to the father's high blood pressure. Yussel is reluctant, but Molly persuades him. He sings "Kol Nidre" next to his surprised but still bitter father. After the service, Yussel shows his father a photo of his new grandson, and Cantor Rabinovitch attends his son's gig, sitting next to Molly.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the montage of Molly and Yussel getting together. It was touching, as saw their reunion. "America" is a great, rousing, patriotic opening and closing song. Neil Diamond's acting wasn't the best, but his music and Lawrence Olivier's support were a great help. The early scene in the club with Yussel in blackface was funny. "That ain't no brotha! That's a white boy!"
Best scene in story:
The end, when Yussel sings "America." He's got a woman who has stood by him, and his father has forgiven him. Some of the critics who unanimously panned the movie quipped that Cantor Rabinovitch became a pop-rock fan just because the grandson had Yussel's eyes.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that he pursued his dream and still tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to hold on to his first wife. He just wasn't meant for the life he had settled for with her, so maybe she was right to give him the ultimatum she did. He shouldn't have left Molly, so their reunion was touching and satisfying.