I can forgive a comedy a lot if it’s funny, but I didn’t laugh once while watching Dough—not even a chuckle or a titter.
Did you hear the one about the crotchety old Jewish dude and his young Moslem apprentice? It seems the old guy’s assistant, a nice Jewish boy with a growing family, quit to make more money elsewhere, while the young Moslem needed a job—it’s a match made in heaven! Of course, the shop hasn’t been doing so well recently, and is in danger of being sold to make way for a parking garage, but the young man has an inspiration that turns everything around. That’s no spoiler, because you already know how things work in this kind of film—the only question is whether they are executed well or poorly.
Mostly poorly in the cause of Dough, a mediocre film weighed down by a script that packs in enough clichés, improbabilities, and downright insulting assumptions to sink the best efforts of a talented cast. Jonathan Pryce plays Nat Dayan, proud owner of the bakery Dayan & Son. Although he’s no longer young, Nat rises at 4 each morning to start the baking process, and stubbornly refuses to retire despite the fact that the shop is a money-loser, he has offers to sell, and his Oxbridge-educated lawyer of a son (Daniel Caltagirone) thinks it’s time for him to start taking it easy. Nat is also a widower and a bit of a curmudgeon, and perhaps a little too stubborn for his own good.
Ayyash (Jerome Holder) is a young African Muslim who dabbles in drug dealing (he’s not too good at it—one escapade ends with him coming home without his pants) and is a squeegee guy the rest of the time (which is to say, a professional pest and low-grade extortionist). He and his mother are refugees from the Janjaweed, and she is insistent that her husband will join them soon, although Ayyash assumes his father is dead. After one scrape too many, Ayyash’s mother insists he get a real job—and wouldn’t you know, there’s one open at the bakery where she works.
That bakery, of course, is Dayan & Son. Working side by side, Nat and Ayyash have a chance to air their prejudices and ignorance (it’s hard to believe anyone living in London today wouldn’t know that some black Africans are Muslims, for instance, or to be familiar with Muslim prayer rituals) and actually get to like each other a bit. Ayyash continues to deal pot, one day dropping some in the bread mixer, and the result is the most popular challah in perhaps the history of the world. The fairy dust of comedy is supposed to make you forget that marijuana is illegal in the U.K., or that adulterating food could have serious consequences.
I can forgive a comedy a lot if it’s funny, but I didn’t laugh once while watching Dough—not even a chuckle or a titter. There are some obvious attempts at humor—in an exercise class involving Swiss balls, the instructor tells the students “grab your balls”—but little of it lands. The whole film seems to be aimed at people who think Carol Burnett reruns are a little too racy, and its worth noting that director John Goldschmidt’s greatest successes as a director occurred 30 or more years ago (he’s been an active producer more recently, but last directed a film in 1987). The co-authors of the screenplay, on the other hand, are remarkably short on experience—this screenplay is the sole imdb.com credit for Jonathan Benson, while Jez Freedman has one credit for co-writing this film and another for producing a short in 2013.
Dough has a good cast, including Pauline Collins (she played Shirley Valentine way back when), Philip Davis, and Ian Hart, but they don’t have much to work with. The screenplay wants to teach you lessons about overcoming prejudices and accepting the good things in life, but is so untethered from anyone’s reality that it’s a chore to sit through. Apart from Nat and Ayyash, the characters are paper-thin stereotypes—the bickering family, the lusty widow, the wise child, the evil drug dealer—despite the best efforts of the actors to bring them to life. The authors are also much too obvious about planting symbolic actions (parallel prayer rituals, parallel escapes through a window, and don’t get me started about what they do with Singing in the Rain!), as if they wrote the screenplay for a class assignment. | Sarah Boslaugh