Here’s a little “Around the World with Netflix” bauble that takes a dip into the lives of Crazy Rich Moroccans in the Netherlands.
Its novelty is that setting, and the way it willfully upends cultural mores and expectations. Yes, it’s a broad and rowdy (ish) rom-com, somewhat predictable and limited in its ambitions. But the simple acts of embracing and poking fun at a “traditional,” patriarchal Islamic culture as it Goes Dutch delivers a few laughs amid the “princesses don’t need a prince to be ‘complete'” lecture.
“Meskina,” as translated here, means “scorned woman,” a Dutch-Moroccan version of “old maid.” That’s how judgmental family and peers regard our heroine/narrator Leyla (Maryam Hassouni). She may be 30 and beautiful, but she’s living with her widowed mom (Rachida Iaallala) and neither supporting herself nor “out there” dating.
Older, married and unfiltered sister Amira (Soundos El Ahmadi) can joke that “Dating is haram,” prohibited under Islamic law. But that’s a joke between sassy sisters. They’re a lot more Dutch than Moroccan. The film’s opening scene, a wedding where our narrator/heroine describes her plight — family expectations, age, agoraphobia — has characters asking each other if they’ve become Hindu. Whatever the ceremony is, the “event” is pure Bollywood excess in attire and “Crazy Rich Asians” in its conspicuous consumption.
Leyla’s “secret” romance with the wildly successful “golden boy” of their circle, the rich record producer Abdelkarim (Olaf Ait Tami) finally becomes public at that wedding, and leads to her own marriage. But that paparazzi-bedeviled match is abruptly tossed away in a scandal “four years later,” putting Leyla back “out there.” She’s discarded as abruptly as that whole “agoraphobia” diagnosis, which is never mentioned again after the first scene.
Yeah, “Meskina” is perfunctory and sloppy like that.
All of this prologue sets us up for Leyla taking a job with her snobby and influential event-planner niece (Jouman Fattal), a montage of the many dates that, haram or not, she struggles through, and the competing efforts of her no-bedside-manner doctor/sister and her nagging mother to set her up.
The sister’s online dating efforts lead to rich, soulful and non-Muslim Fabian (Vincent Banic).
“He’s not Moroccan!” “What ARE you? 1954?”
And mom’s matchmaking pairs her with traditional and equally smitten Amin (Nasrdin Dchar).
Who will she choose? How can she choose?
Meanwhile, she’s still trying to turn this “Dutch Muslim girl who doesn’t need a prince to feel complete” fairytale idea into a children’s book, making her “the Dutch Judy Blume.”
There are scattered laughs in this messy, ungainly comedy’s teasing, flirting, ululating women, trying-too-hard men and the apparently bi Muslim assistant (Bilal Wahib) who tries to give our heroine that gay BFF at work that women in all such tinsel-tainted rom-coms require.
What’s more interesting are the pronounced efforts to upend expectations about Europe’s allegedly insular and unassimilated first and second generation Muslim population. Lip service may be paid to being traditional and dating “Mocre” (Moroccan), but every “date,” every pop-song sing along, the whole glitzy hip hop scene and the sisters’ outspokenness and frank and frequent deployment of the F-bomb blow up that preconception.
There isn’t much to “Meskina” that we haven’t seen presented to better effect in dozens of other “culture clash” romantic comedies. The “clash” here is so watered-down as to deny the picture its one chance at real friction, something a sermon delivered at the climax doesn’t correct.
The performances are pretty flat, although El Ahmadi, playing sister Amira broad and loud, makes a most amusing impression. None of the men register at all, outside of the generic “goofballs I met online” dating montage.
We never buy the gorgeous Hassouni as anything remotely “Meskina,” as if that’s part of the “fairy tale” that is her life. The laughs are too scattered for this to pay off.
And whatever shock value there might be to an Islamic audience — short skirts, suggestive music and dancing, etc. — to Western eyes this is as edgy as Moroccan mint tea. The script puts much effort into being mildly offensive — the F-bombs — which never hides how blandly inoffensive it will play to anybody who doesn’t fret over what is or isn’t haram.
Rating: TV-MA, lots of profanity
Cast: Maryam Hassouni, Soundos El Ahmadi, Rachida Iaallala, Olaf Ait Tami, Vincent Banic, Nasrdin Dchar, Bilal Wahib and Jouman Fattal
Credits: Directed by Daria Bukvic, scripted by Fadua El Akchaoui, Daria Bukvic and Ernst Gonlag. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:38