David & Layla

2008, Movie, R, 106 mins

Review

DAVID & LAYLA
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The road to formulaic romantic-comedy complications and ethic clichés is paved with good intentions in first-time filmmaker Jay Jonroy's cross-culture love story, which might as well be called "My Big Fat Kurdish Wedding."

Stateless dancer Layla (Shiva Rose) lost most of her family to Saddam Hussein's war on the Kurdish community, and now lives with relatives in Brooklyn. Having overstayed her tourist visa, she faced with deportation unless she marries an American, so her Uncle Ali and Aunt Zina (Ed Chemaly, Anna George) set about looking for a suitable husband among the exiled Kurdish community. Pampered David Fine (David Moscow), who produces a local cable TV show called "Sex and Happiness," also needs to get married, at least according to his oppressively loving parents, Judith and Mel (Polly Adams, Peter Van Wagner); he's certainly been dating the high-maintenance Abby (Callie Thorne, of TV's Rescue Me), a bundle of brusque demands and baroque sexual rules, for long enough. David and Layla meet cute: He asks her a "man on the street" sex question and she slaps his face. He's intrigued by her old-fashioned modesty, not to mention her stunning good looks, and begins a tentative courtship, encouraged and advised by his worldly French cameraman (Alexander Blaise). David and Layla discover that despite centuries of conflict – much of it rooted in secular concerns -- their faiths and cultures are more alike than they imagined. And in the process, they fall deeply in love, much to their families' consternation.

Jonroy was born in Kurdistan, displaced as a teenager and is no stranger to the toll of Saddam's persecution: The film is dedicated to the brother and a brother-in-law he lost to Saddam's regime. He was inspired to write DAVID & LAYLA after meeting a happily married Jewish-American/Muslim-Kurdish couple in Paris, and his faith in love's power to transcend cultural and religious prejudice is inspiring; less so, his faith in ethnic schtick and broad romantic-comedy clichés, especially interspersed with earnest discussions of genocide, bigotry, history and doctrine that stop the story dead in its tracks. That Rose's subtle charisma is forced to compete with Moscow's whirlwind of Woody Allen-ish tics and mannerisms doesn't help matters, but Jonroy has a sharp eye for visual detail: Brooklyn's diverse streets feel vividly alive with opportunities to cross racial, religious and cultural divides or to retreat into segregated ignorance. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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