Friday, May 13, 2016

Dough Movie Review

It feels almost obscene to speak negatively of a film like Dough. It has only the best intentions. It is not malicious and takes on several noble subjects that are both particular to its London setting as well as universal in the multicultural 21st century.

Jonathan Pryce is a wonderful actor who has made a career of flying just under the radar of superstardom. Here he plays Nat Dayan, proprietor of a kosher bakery that is on the brink of failure alongside the corporate one-stop shopping convenience next door. He’s hardly recognizable behind a thick beard and gristled locks of hair, and a yarmulke. Nat clings to an old way of life in which the family business passes from father to son and the Jewish community thrives in perpetuity. But time marches on and change comes. His son became a successful lawyer and the Jews are fleeing (most likely to the suburbs as they earn their continued financial successes), being replaced by immigrants and refugees, many of them African Muslims.

One of these families is Ayyash (newcomer Jerome Holder), a young man working as a roadside squeegee man, and his mother, who cleans up the bakery at the end of the day. When Nat finds himself in need of an assistant and Ayyash needs a “cover job” to mask the income he’s going to have from dealing cannabis, the two have a common solution for their respective problems.

Dough turns out to be a mildly pleasant little confection of a movie. Like I said, to criticize it just feels mean-spirited. It’s not that screenwriters Jez Freedman and Jonathan Benson set out to hurt anyone. Quite the opposite in fact. Their screenplay and John Goldschmidt’s direction goes out of its way to be safe for the maximum number of people. There’s prejudice, but only in tiny, almost imperceptible ways that are as quickly atoned for as they are uttered. There’s a safe villain (played by Phil Davis) in the corporate greed master trying to push Nat out. He’s evil in cartoonish ways and if he were to suddenly sprout a mustache to twirl, it would hardly seem out of place. The relationship that develops between Nat and Ayyash is quaint, soft-natured, and even when it turns sour owing to Ayyash’s lacing the baked goods with hash, there’s still room for quick forgiveness. Even Ayyash’s drugs supplier, Victor (Ian Hart, a British actor known for playing tough) is a ‘safe’ drug dealer. He won’t have any of his employees dealing in heroin, cocaine, LSD, and pills because they’re “poison.” In 2016, marijuana and hash are becoming socially acceptable and even legal in many places, so it keeps the character mostly inoffensive.

There’s an interesting blend in Dough o drama, racial tension, social commentary vis-à-vis economic status and urban development, and even farcical comedy. At times it feels uneven as if Goldschmidt can’t quite decide where he wants to pitch it. Or maybe that’s a calculation to be all things to all people. The comedy is at times goofy and then we have to be subjected to Nat’s bumbling around the bakery on his own with no assistant, dropping things, and burning himself. Scenes like that come out of a different movie. Because it’s the tender touches like the parallels of Nat’s and Ayyash’s religious ritual observances that bring warmth and heat to the movie. They have differences in age, customs, experience, but their values are more aligned than each believes of the other.

Ultimately I just don’t know what Dough adds to the conversation of any of the social issues it’s driving at. Other movies have done it better and countless have done it worse or just the same. If you’re going to make this movie, then swing for the fences and really give the audience fodder for discussion. There’s little to disagree with in Dough and without conflict and disagreement, there is little to talk about. Without talk there is no progress.

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