Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, 4:00 PM
(UK, 2010, Color, English, 105 mins. Director: Josh Appignanesi)
No matter how many times you see a Jewish man ‘teaching’ a Muslim how to act like a Jew, it’s funny. Especially when the actors in question are The West Wing’s Richard Schiff, Jewish in real life, and Omid Djalili, playing a north London Muslim of Pakistani descent. Djalili’s attempts at the shrug, the oy veys and strangling the language is laugh out loud comedy every time…
The set-up is simple – Djalili is Mahmud Nasir, a British Muslim who works at a London cab firm. He is not the strictest Muslim – he likes his football, the odd drink and would rather play with his two charming children than pray five times a day. He then discovers he was adopted, and not only that but his birth parents were Jewish, and his real name is Solly Shimshellewitz. He befriends rival cabbie Lenny (Schiff) and tries to learn how to ‘be Jewish’ so he can gain entry into the home where he believes his real father lies dying.
Here’s where the heart of the comedy is. Lenny teaches Solly all the tricks of the trade, then takes Solly to a Bar Mitzvah, with chaotic results. However, as Solly is embracing his new Jewish identity, his family are appalled – his gorgeous wife Saamiya (Panjabi) leaves him – she thought he was having an affair, or gay, but this is worse – and his adorable daughter calls him an ‘infidel’. Worse, his son Rashid (Amit Shah) is planning to marry Uzma (Soraya Radford) but her stepfather is a fanatical Muslim who will forbid the bond if Nasir is not strict enough – so Rashid is furious with his dad.
It’s to the film’s huge credit that it takes on this highly sensitive material and makes it funny – writer David Baddiel has said ‘people are terrified, and when they are terrified, what they should really do is laugh’. The gag count is very high and hits all targets equally…