DAVID & LAYLAR
Eccentric even by indie standards, David & Layla, based on a true story, written and directed by Kurdish exile Jay Jonroy, could be subtitled My Awfully Quirky Kurdish-Jewish Wedding. Jonroy exploits the ever-popular taste of the public for stories about cross-cultural man-woman relationships as well as woman-to-woman friendships, as in Joel Zwick’s My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Stefan C. Schaefer and Diane Crespo’s Arranged (the latter about the friendship of two Brooklyn teachers, one Jewish and one Muslim), respectively. David & Layla is a mixed bag in more ways than its religiosity. Jay Jonroy’s characters and situations are part vivid, part cliché, much of the time predictably tiresome, while on the other hand some personas are charming and fun to watch.
David Moscow (Riding in Cars with Boys) is a natural comic, here taking the role of David Fine—a two-bit producer of a local talk show that finds him interviewing people on the street with such questions as how spicy foods affect their sex lives. We get a few answers, but for the most part the public ignores him. Unfortunately, his wishes are ignored as well by his fiancée, Abby (Callie Thorne), who in a reversal of the usual roles uses David for his body.
David soon encounters Layla (Shiva Rose), a Kurdish exile like the writer-director, whose showbiz career finds her doing a warm-up dance in a nightclub for the main attraction, a belly-dancer. Layla’s aunt and uncle (Anna George and Ed Chemaly), who think she is taking nursing courses at night, are especially worried when federal inspectors warn Layla that she will be deported because her visa has expired. She needs only to marry an American citizen: True to the cliché, she not only dates David but falls in love with him, insisting that he convert to Islam to please the relatives who took her in. What follows includes a gathering of the entire mishpucha, with David’s folks showing signs of distress at the culture shock but eventually coming to terms.
While the movie evokes a comic tone, David & Layla is a plea for world peace. If only Muslims ate matzoh and drank Manischewitz at Passover while Jews prayed five times a day facing Mecca and said “Inshallah,” all would be groovy. The picture takes its time in developing momentum; once attained, it becomes a watchable, optimistic cri de coeur. The music is splendid, one clarinetist doing marvels with Klezmer while the two families dance the Hora and pursue Islamic hoofing like pros.