RECIPE FOR A SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS MOVIE
- Star to finish: ~90 minutes
- Servings: One smallish art-house audience
- Take two parts religion
- One part aging individual (preferably white)
- Blend together until their inherent differences rise to the surface. Let rest.
- Add a pinch of social realism—not too much, just enough to taste.
- Forcefully work in a few digs at capitalism.
- Introduce various plot threads. Do not incorporate.
- Bake in the lukewarm oven for 90 minutes and serve to those with dulled taste buds.
Building predictably and hitting each plot point with Syd Field’s manufactured precision, Dough is a socially conscious movie that is offensive in an unconscionable manner. Directed by John Goldschmidt, from a script by Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman, Dough shows that an old Jewish baker can come to love a Muslim refugee. Not for who he is, but for what he can do for him.
Dough starts with Ayyash (Jerome Holder), a teenage Muslim refugee from Darfur living in poverty with his mother, Safa (Natasha Gordon), who cleans a local Jewish bakery at night. Ayyash is uneducated, which limits his ability to work. The only way he can make enough money to get them out of their small, dilapidated apartment is to deal drugs. But the local tough, Victor (Ian Hart), is afraid that if Ayyash suddenly comes into money, people will talk. Get a cover job, he suggests.
If Ayyash had a job, why would he need to deal drugs? Because he would never be able to make enough. In one of the movie’s more telling scenes, Ayyash wipes windshields down at stoplights. When a rude—white and affluent—Brit flips him his fair, he snarls, “Get a real job.” What kind of job does the driver think Ayyash should be doing?
Ayyash does get a job—as an apprentice at the bakery Safa cleans, Dayan & Son. The son in question, Nat (Jonathan Pryce), is currently without help because his son (Daniel Caltagirone) went off to become a lawyer and left the family business behind. Ayyash takes to the business of baking easily and starts dealing drugs on the side for Victor. Then one day, Ayyash mistakenly drops some of the marijuana into the dough, and voilà, Dayan & Son’s bakery suddenly finds a new clientele and starts making a whole lot of money.
This burst in sales isn’t at all suspect for Nat; he just keeps smiling while the money-till rings. Ayyash is happy because he’s finally found something that he is good at. The customers are happy because they are loopy from Ayyash’s laced challah bread. Everything would be fine if only the competition next door wasn’t snooping around, and Victor didn’t want his cut.
That competition, a supermarket chain run by Sam (Phil Davis), and Victor provide Dough with villains that bring the movie to its uninspired and predictable conclusion, but only after a few more racial remarks can be tossed around. When Nat learns that the reason for a recent sale bump is due to Ayyash adding drugs to the dough, he sneers a predictable, “I never should have trusted one of you people.” Trite.
But then Nat has a change of heart, a completely unmotivated and unexplained reversal designed to make the audience feel better about their own racially motivated suspicions. By shrugging his shoulders and welcoming Ayyash back into the fold, Nat doesn’t learn a damn thing. Instead, he just finds a way to make himself feel better about his objectionable opinions. Much like the angry driver who sneered at Ayyash about a “real job” while still paying him, Nat’s found a way to have his cake and eat it too.
Dough shows the audience that this is how people behave, and that’s just fine. As long as you let one Black Muslim boy into your life, you can still be nasty to the rest of them. It’s called “tokenism,” and it’s really ugly.
Directed by: John Goldschmidt
Written by: Jonathan Benson, Jez Freedman
Produced by: Wolfgang Esenwein, György Gattyán, John Goldschmidt, András Somkuti
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Jerome Holder, Natasha Gordon, Phil Davis, Ian Hart, Pauline Collins
Menemsha Films, Not rated, Running time 94 minutes, Opens June 29, 2016