Dough (2015) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for drug content, brief violence, and some language
Running Time: 94 min.
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Jerome Holder, Pauline Collins, Philip Davis, Ian Hart, Daniel Caltagirone, Andy de la Tour
Director: John Goldschmidt
Screenplay: Jez Freedman, Jonathan Benson
Review published May 9, 2016
Thoughts ran through my mind of the unfortunately named Dough on what a better title could have been: Baked? (The tagline uses this term at least) Breaking Bread? (the "Breaking Bad" connection may go over some heads, I suppose) The Knead for Weed? Challah for Dollahs? (OK, maybe Dough is better...)
Dough is a rather benign comedy that is a subtle call for tolerance and unity. Jonathan Pryce (Woman in Gold, GI Joe: Retaliation) stars as elderly widower Nat, the current owner of the family's century-old Jewish bakery that's just barely been scraping by of late, mostly because his predominantly Jewish clientele are moving away from the East End London neighborhood (filmed mostly in Budapest) or dying off. When Nat's only assistant leaves for a better paying job, he's stuck having to do it all himself, unsuccessfully, as he advertises for a new apprentice, but the prospects are dismal. It's bad enough that Nat, who moves slower and is woefully out of practice, isn't going to be able to deliver the quality and quantity the shop needs to stay afloat; he really feels the squeeze when a greedy developer (who, we learn, also stole away his baker) buys the building and wants to push Nat out before the five years remaining on his lease.
Nat reluctantly accepts the services of his Muslim African refugee shop cleaner's son, Ayyash (Holder, Shank) who needs a cover job in order to start to peddle drugs and make much needed money for his family to get out of the dilapidated slum in which they currently reside. Ayyash doesn't have time for both his full-time job and his drug dealing, so he decides to do both at once while at the bakery, unbeknownst to Nat. When Ayyash rashly hides a stash of weed inside a mixing machine, causing the latest batch of kosher baked goods to give their customers a lift, repeat business begins to pick up for the first time in many years. Seeing this opportunity to both help himself and his kindly boss who will certainly lose his livelihood, he decides he can kill two birds with one stone by selling his weed through by keeping the customers as baked as the items they purchase.
The performances are solid, with Pryce delivering the best turn as the frazzled baker who sees all of his hopes and dreams beginning to slip further away from his flour-coated fingers. Jerome Holder is very likeable as Ayyash, who persistently makes poor life decisions, but does so with the best intentions in mind, such that we continue to root for him, even though his actions are reckless and criminal -- it's a bit uneasy to think that he is drugging his boss, as well as some of their costumers, without their knowledge or consent. The movie not only finds humor in their generational divide, and the racial one in a more minor sense, but also navigates the tricky religious friction and prejudices between Jewish and Muslim communities who haven't always seen eye to eye, especially in how they transform the neighborhoods in which they reside.
The fact that it comes across as old-fashioned shouldn't come as a surprise when you learn that John Goldschmidt (She'll Be Wearing Pink Pyjamas, Maschenka) hasn't directed anything in nearly thirty years, with his last effort coming in 1987. It's also the first feature screenplay for Jez Freedman (whose short film, The Funeral, was executive produced by Goldschmidt) and Jonathan Benson. The tone is a bit loose, and occasionally stiff, but the performances elevate the characters such that we like them well enough to want to see what happens for them in the end. Contrivances abound, most notably when the two protagonists have to don disguises and break in to a corporate headquarters to help save their livelihoods, but the movie seems to be made mostly as a piece of fluffy, innocuous entertainment, so such indulgences manage to not sink the film into being a complete misfire.
While it is all genial for a bit, Dough begins to weaken the more secondary plots kick in involving the bullying tactics of the both the wicked developer and the dangerous drug dealer, bringing in silly heist elements and moments of potential tragedy that don't quite jibe with the more modest set-up of the first hour of the story. If things seem dour, don't worry; this is a formula film as warm as a room full of ovens, fully intending to leave you walking out of the theater with a smile. It's a sitcom premise, and plays mostly like one throughout, but there's enough sweetness and modest laughs to make for a pleasant diversion for those looking for a lighthearted look at how our differences aren't as strong as our similarities, despite generational, cultural, ethnic, and religious divides.
©2016 Vince Leo