“Breaking Fast” is an Islamic “Wedding Banquet,” a West Hollywood rom-com so cute it flirts with “cutesy,” almost cloying when it isn’t being cute, but damned adorable in the bargain.
The fact that it arrives 28 years after Ang Lee’s food, family and gay-romance makes it feel quaint at times, “daring” in some pretty dated ways. Filmmaker Mosallam, expanding as he remakes his short film, leans into some stereotypes and amusingly punctures others in this story of a devout Muslim immigrant who slow-walks his way to love, in between calls to prayer.
Mohammed, who goes by “Mo” (Haaz Sleiman), is a prosperous gastroenterologist from a tightknit family who always hosts the relatives at his West Hollywood home for Iftar every year. That’s the meal that Muslims eat at the end of the fast of Ramadan.
We meet him just as his lover Hassan (Patrick Sabongui) is deciding that he needs to “get married” to a woman just to avoid coming out to his family, especially his father.
Mo, his parents’ pride and joy, doesn’t have that problem. He’s the son who can do no wrong, especially in the eyes of his adoring mother (Rula Gardenier). I mean, he is a doctor, after all.
So Mo and Hassan break-up. And Mo’s flamboyant younger pal Sam (Amin El Gamal) cannot leave his fellow “Gay-rab” single. If he won’t cruise the bars of “We Ho” (West Hollywood), then there’s nothing for it but to set him up at Sam’s next birthday party.
Kal (Michael Cassidy of “People of Earth” and “Batman vs. Superman”) is Paul Rudd-handsome, flippant and flirty.
“Actors always make me uncomfortable,” Mo complains.
“Hey, I’m an actor, creep.“
But…but what would you do “if this acting thing doesn’t work out?”
“Porn...Hey, I thought Muslims weren’t supposed to judge!”
It helps that Kal is also a teetotaler, loves Arab cooking and being an Army brat, learned Arabic when he was in the Middle East.
But Mo? He’s trying to balance his desires with his “Mister Islam” “mindset.” Everything has to go slow slow slow.
Can this couple make that work?
The value in a film like this is in its cultural immersion. There’s a traditional food and halal lifestyle primer tucked into all the witty, quippy banter in the gym, an Islamic funeral, parties and family gatherings.
Those new to this world (Sam’s new beau) are lectured that “There are no punishments for homosexuality in the Koran,” and that The Prophet didn’t persecute gays, along with long lists of things one simply doesn’t do, like taking off your shoes and letting them point towards Mecca.
“Sounds time consuming” may be the funniest line among many funny lines.
Egyptian-American actor El Gamal goes full Dan Levy here, sashaying into a funeral filled with wailing, disapproving Muslim women with a “What YEAR are we in here? It’s not the Dark Ages!”
The stereotypes embraced are the funniest ones — “Sound of Music,” “West Side Story” and “Easter Parade” (with Judy Garland) references.
“Hey, you know ‘Into the Woods,’ in act two when…?”
But Mo and Kal have another show that they bond over, one starring Christopher Reeve and that gave Kal his name.
The entire affair is a tad too on-the-nose to trip by as lightly as it might. A lot of rough edges are rubbed off in the cause of staying upbeat.
But as a culture-illuminating rom-com, it never goes far wrong. Mo’s “call to prayer” phone app, his family’s smothering-ululating concern for his happiness, a visual/sexual tease here, some Ramadan innuendo there, it’s often funny and it always plays.
“Even a single impure though would RUIN this whole day’s fast!”
MPA Rating: unrated, sexual situations, innuendo
Cast: Haaz Sleiman, Michael Cassidy, Amin El Gamal, Patrick Sabongui, Rula Gardenier and Veronica Cartwright
Credits: Scripted and directed by Mike Mosallam. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:32