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November 6, 2011

Bay Ridge and Boro Park are two neighboring sections of Brooklyn that live worlds apart. Bay Ridge is a heavily Muslim enclave, while Boro Park is home to the largest concentration of Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. With David, writer/directors Joel Fendelman and Patrick Daly explore the relationship between these two communities through the eyes of two boys.

Daud (Muatasem Mishal) is a studious, sad-faced Muslim boy. His father, Ahmed (comedian Maz Jobrani) is a strict, but loving imam who dotes on his obedient son, who endeavors to live up to the expectations. One day, seeing some yeshiva students accidentally leave behind one of their books, Daud tries following them to return it; he accidentally places his grandfather’s Quran into the mailbox of the yeshiva instead of their book.

Daud has been warned of how the Hassidim don’t like Arabs, but he screws up his courage and attempts a surreptitious exchange. Of course he’s noticed, but is taken instead for a Sephardic Jew named David. And although he’s terrified at first, Daud makes friends with the other boys, particularly Yoav (Binyomin Shtaynberger), but how long can he go before he’s found out, or before his father realizes what’s going on?

Neither Mishal nor Shtaynberger is an actor, and it does show. I suppose it can be played off as the awkwardness of twelve-year-old boys, but in many scenes it feels like they’re clearly reading lines. On the other hand, their behavior is very natural — almost uncomfortably so, given my usual mortification around pre-teen boys. Still, their performances do stand out against the more seasoned members of the cast.

The other thing is that while the setup is great, the execution goes more or less as you might expect. It’s not really a bad thing to be a bit predictable, since it can throw more emphasis on the actors’ performances, but other than Maz Jobrani, well, see above.

On the other hand, there’s a wonderful secondary plot involving Daud’s sister, Aisha (Dina Shihabi), and how her father reacts to her acceptance to a computer engineering program at Stanford. As much difficulty as women from any background have in such a technical career, a young woman from a culture with such a traditionalistic view of a woman’s place could really help throw the story into sharper relief.

Luckily, I have it on good authority that Fendelman plans a deeper exploration of a similar story for his next project. With David, he shows a talent for dealing even-handedly and respectfully with conflicting cultures; I’m looking forward to whatever he comes up with next.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: pass.

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