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April 29, 2016

It’s only a matter of time before laws prohibiting marijuana go the way of, well, prohibition. In case it wasn’t already obvious, the clinching proof should be this: that pot humor is no longer the province of sophomoric raunch-comedies. If it can be blended into a bland, inoffensive, downright family-friendly film like Dough, it’s gone fully mainstream.

The real story here has become as much a staple of the modern film diet as a black-and-white cookie: Jews and Muslims learning they can get along after all. Nat (Jonathan Pryce) is the principal Jew in question, a baker whose shop is crumbling in the face of competition from the big grocery chain next door. When his apprentice leaves, he takes on Ayyash (Jerome Holder), the son of his cleaning lady, Safa (Natasha Gordon), who can’t find another job.

Or at least he can’t find a legitimate job. Which, ironically, is just what keeps him from dealing marijuana for Victor (Ian Hart), who insists all his street-level sales force maintain cover jobs. But once Nat starts from scratch, teaching him how to bake, Ayyash figures out how to use the shop itself as his illicit storefront.

Of course from there it’s only a matter of time until the pot makes its way into the dough. At first it’s a classic slapstick routine, right out of I Love Lucy, but then the results go on sale and the challah isn’t the only thing baked in the neighborhood.

For such a standard comedy trope, the accidental highs play somewhat oddly here. The real standout for me was Nat’s whole family getting stoned, down to his adorable little granddaughter, Olivia (Melanie Freeman). I’m not exactly deeply outraged over the idea of a little kid catching a buzz, but it does point to just how normalized pot has become that this scene can even exist in a movie getting US distribution.

All of this new success outrages the grocery chain’s owner (Philip Davis), whose plans to buy up the whole block of shops are stymied. And there’s bound to be confusion between Ayyash and his supplier. And the whole odd-couple pairing of Nat and Ayyash across lines of race, class, and creed just builds onto the farce. But director John Goldschmidt never quite comes to a good balance between all these threads, leaving the finished product a tad lumpy in places.

Along the way we get some neat little parallels, like Ayyash performing his dawn salat while Nat puts on tefillin. Of course, as is the norm for this subgenre, there’s a certain asymmetry baked into their positions as well. Nat is cultured, and pretty fully westernized despite his kippah and beard marking him out from the rest of the East End. Ayyash, on the other hand, is poor, and not opposed to a life of crime until the kindly baker magnanimously takes him in. Nat’s problems mainly stem from his psychological inertia in the wake of his wife’s passing — a detail that is strangely kept until late in the film, but doesn’t function as a reveal that suddenly explains something that’s only been hinted at — while Ayyash’s problems are all external and existential, from his economic instability to the father he left while escaping Darfur.

The movie is, in short, much like the results of Nat and Ayyash’s baking. It may lack the industrial uniformity of bigger-budget products, but it follows a recipe honed over generations to be predictable and easy-to-swallow for as wide an audience as possible. And with just a little pot sprinkled in.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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