The truth comes out and the audience is left to wonder what it all means
Emerging writer/director team David Baddiel and Josh Appignanesi gave it a solid college try with this quirky comedy about a man who finds out his true identity, too late. Doing his best to be a good Muslim, the hero finds out he was actually born a Jew and adopted into a Muslim family. Unfortunately, the plot is thin, at least to most Americans. At first glance the concept of an Americanized Islamic activist who finds out he is of Jewish birth is funny. There is the potential to make the bureaucracy the butt of a joke and that is always a saleable item. In addition to that, there is the angle of further making fun of Islamic extremists.
Although American comedians have worked this gold mine from coast to coast there is still plenty of ore left as fanatic Islamists wage war on cartoonists and allegedly commit gas attacks on girls’ schools.
TV actor Omid Djalili gives it his all in a hyperactive performance as American Islamic man Mahmud Nasir. The character of Nasir is crafted with care by screenwriter Baddiel and director Appignanesi. He is not a radical Islamic fanatic declaring war on Cristian / Jewish dogs. Not only would that not be funny but also the set-up has no potential for his continued involvement with the non-Islamic world around him. The quarreling sets up the disjunctures and surprises that are the stuff of humor. If Nasir was a true Islamic radical he would just shoot drunken taxi driver Lenny Goldberg and be done with it.
Speaking of Goldberg and his funny characterization by Richard Shiff (Emmy winner playing Toby Ziegler on TV’s “West Wing”), he is one uppity Jew. Not only that but he is a rare Jew as one doesn’t see too many driving taxis these days. The vast majority of taxi drivers are Islamic as they are the most recent to immigrate. The Jews spend more of their time collecting rents and developing high-rise office buildings.
Not only does Nasir have problems with his obnoxious taxi driver foil, who happens to live across the street, but also Nasir’s son is getting married to the daughter of a prominent, internationally known, conservative Islamic leader. The film shifts quickly to “Birdcage” territory where the hapless Nasir must hide his newly found genetic structure from his future father-in-law.
The problem with this set up is that we Americans are not sure what all the fuss is about. Most of our extended families involve three different religions and maybe even one or two cults here and there. We cannot understand who would make a big deal out of being born in a different religion that the one of our upbringing. The joke fails to resonate and we are left watching a series of stand-up comedy routines that go nowhere.
Nasir makes the last gasp dash to find his true father and overcome the heartless mismanagement of the adoption paper-pushers but is finally foiled by the grim reaper. The man he suspects is his father expires before he can talk to him. As a final insult Nasir is denied the truth by a pretty funny rabbi played by Matt Lucas.
Although this film tries to do too much at the same time and waters down both the script and the acting it is still fun to watch. If nothing else it is another great Tribeca Film Festival example of what fresh creative minds can do on a small budget. Watch for Josh and David in the future.
Directed by: Josh Appignanesi
Written by: David Baddiel
Starring: Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff
Release: Tribeca Film Festival, a Fandango Production
MPAA: Not Rated
Runtime: 110 minutes