July 20, 2007, - 1:21 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
After meeting and interviewing sympathetic, peaceful Kurdish writer/director Jalal “Jay” Jonroy and charming star Shiva Rose, I feel a little bad panning “David & Layla,” their movie out in theaters, today. But not too bad.
Jay’s heart is in the right place and his movie bears no ill will to Jews (even though his movie portrays otherwise), nor does he have any love for extremist Muslims. I enjoyed speaking with him about Kurdish life, Iraq’s President Jalal Talibani, and people of Kurdish descent here in Detroit. He’d do well to make a movie about those things.
But his fictional movie is silly, outrageous, and far beneath this charming, intelligent man of many talents. I found it offensive, even though I know he did not mean it this way. I hope and expect he’ll do better with his next effort. He is a serious man who writes well, but he would be better suited to drama and documentary, not comedy.
The movie, about a Kurdish Muslim immigrant whose parents were killed by Saddam Hussein, is yet another one of those absurd Kumbaya, can’t-we-all-just-get-along movies. David is a Jewish man who hosts a cable show interviewing people on the street about their love and sex lives. He has a stereotypical Jewish American Princess fiancee, a stereotypical, close-minded, prejudiced Jewish American Princess mother, and a stereotypical Jewish American father who is sex-obsessed and visits a prostitute. That he gets a testicle paralysis of sorts while visiting the prostitute doesn’t make the movie any more entertaining. If anything, it makes this movie as groan-worthy as the slightly-more-funny (as in not very) “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” also in theaters, today.
David (played by David Moscow, who we saw as the kid version of Tom Hanks in “Big”–I liked him far better there, as a kid who is mostly absent and with little dialogue) falls in love with Layla, who is in America living with her kind, lovely Kurdish aunt and uncle in New York. Since she is about to be deported, they want to marry her off to a wealthy Muslim doctor she does not love. David eventually convinces her to date him.
In the end, David converts to Islam, they raise their kid Muslim and Jewish, and at the Passover Seder, the family agrees with Layla’s request that they wish peace upon the Palestinian people and say, “Next Year in Palestine.” The end.
If this encapsulation of the movie disgusts you, guess what? Teh move disgusted me, too. Meeting the director and hearing the more benign viewpoint from which he comes gives a more positive perspective, but that’s irrelevant because it doesn’t come off on-screen. I know, for example, that, for the most part, Kurds don’t care about “Palestine” and “Palestinians.” They are mostly moderate Muslims, who are largely very pro-Israel and philo-Semitic, as there were many Kurdish Jews living among them in Iraq. Kurds helped ferry out many Jews to freedom in Israel taking them over the mountains to then-Shah-controlled Iran. And they identified with Jews in their struggle against Saddam Hussein. (Though, some of that may have changed now that the Kurds–at least Mr. Talibani–are part of the anti-Semitic Al-Maliki Shia government now atop Iraq.)
That they would suddenly dislike Jews or that they are typical of other Muslims is absurd. When I asked Jay Jonroy about this, he admitted that I was right. “But then there would be no movie,” he told me. So, for drama’s–actually silly comedy’s–sake, this was necessary? Jay, you can do better. Jonroy said the movie was based on a real-life marriage between Jewish and Kurdish friends of his in Paris. But I doubt their relationship was as absurd and graphically sex-obsessed (a common anti-Semitic stereotype) as takes place here. I asked about this. And Jonroy said he put the never-ceasing, depraved sex obsession in as humor. Sorry, not funny.
I was also charmed by Shiva Rose (“Layla”), the beautiful, talented Iranian-born actress who happens to be married to left-wing actor Dylan McDermott. She and her family escaped Iran when the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power, as they were a non-observant Muslim family with interests in the arts with a bleak future under Sharia (her maternal grandmother was a Jew, and so, by Jewish law, she’d be Jewish). Still, Rose, too, is better than this movie, in which she is relegated to mostly a dancer who opens for a belly dancer. Frankly, her real-life story is far more interesting. And I’d love to see that.
Some positive things: I liked the opening scenes, contrasting Jewish and Muslim New York neighborhoods, with Klezmer and Middle-Eastern music woven together. And the Kurdish wedding scene–after which David breaks the traditional Jewish glass, showing he still knows he is a Jew–was an improvement over other scenes. Still, this one didn’t work for me. And you won’t like it, either.
Like I said, I feel bad giving this movie a bad review. But not so bad. It’s yet another attempt at moral equivalency that doesn’t work . . . or ring true. Embarrassing–and painful–to sit through.
Tags: actress, Al-Maliki Shia, Al-Maliki Shia government, America, belly dancer, Big, dancer, David & Layla, David Moscow, Debbie Schlussel After, Detroit, director, Dylan McDermott, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Iraq, Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Jalal "Jay" Jonroy, Jalal Talibani, left-wing actor, Muslim, New York, Palestine, paralysis, Paris, President, Princess, Ruhollah Khomeini, Saddam Hussein, Shiva Rose, Writer /Director