Friday, January 22, 2021

Breaking Fast: Movie Review

Mature and inclusive, a rom-com with emotional candor.
Breaking Fast could be a straight-forward romantic comedy but instead it breaks the mold with layered characters and thoughtful discussions on dramatic themes. It includes commentary on family, religion, religious extremists, sexual orientations and acceptance, does so with the best written characters this genre has seen and then wraps that all up in a joyful rom-com plot with really high indie production values.   2020

Directed by: Mike Mosallam

Screenplay by: Mike Mosallam

Starring: Haaz Sleiman, Michael Cassidy

Mo (Haaz Sleiman) is an openly gay, devout Muslim living in LA. His boyfriend, Hassan (Patrick Sabongui), is a closeted gay, devout Muslim. The movie opens with their break-up. Hassan isn’t ready to come out given their religion’s treatment of homosexuals and when his family sets him up with a girl to marry, Hassan accepts, deciding that denying his sexuality is a better option than coming out to his family.

Mo is obviously hurt by what he sees as a very illogical conclusion. So Mo does what so many real humans do: he cuts his once-best friend out of his life. Blocks him on social media, buries himself in his work, puts up emotional walls, and continues on with his life. It’s time for Ramadan anyways.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of this film (although there’s a lot of excellence in this movie clamouring for that title) is how it introduces Islam to non-religious members of the audience. It’s very inviting to White audience members and I would have to assume still interesting to Muslims as well. The inclusivity in this movie is joyful (even when it’s tackling heavy issues) and so refreshing to see.

One night when Mo’s very openly gay, non-Muslim Arab friend - Sam (Amin El Gamal) - invites him out so he can be a less-boring version of himself, he meets Kal (Michael Cassidy). Kal is everything; he’s very hot, very funny, and more mature than most of their other gay friends who hang out in West Hollywood clubs and White. Mo is judgemental (even though his religion tells him not to be), and makes fun of actors, makes assumptions about Kal, and despite thoroughly enjoying Kal’s company, goes back to his shut-in life; it’s just easier.

Luckily though he and Kal meet up again. The title comes from the Ramadan meal at sunset each night when they break the fast. Kal offers to cook for Mo, which then becomes a nightly occurrence. But their romance moves very slowly since Ramadan also means abstaining from human desires.

I love how the plot involves Ramadan and I also love how real the characters are – they are real, complex, and imperfectly perfect. It is just so easy to see yourself in all of them. Kal is very accepting of Mo’s devoutness, Mo loves Kal’s openness to other cultures; Mo is very proud of his closeness to his family, Kal feels a need to hide his family’s dysfunction; Mo is judgemental and confident but that combination threatens Kal’s open nature and he can no longer be vulnerable when he needs to be.

All the main actors are really good but I loved Michael Cassidy’s desire for vulnerability and how he used humour to help open up rather than shut down. The film also makes good use of the structure that Ramadan provides – minimal daytime scenes, but the film really comes alive with its nighttime cinematography and the LA streets after dark.

It’s more dramatic than it is funny, but it’s also a rom-com at heart. The ebbs and flows in their relationships are based on their very real responses to religion, the dangers in devoutness and where and how lines get crossed into extremism, and when you have conflicting emotions how do you let the right ones win out? These are not usual themes for a rom-com because Breaking Fast is not your typical rom-com. It’s mature and considerate, balances the weighty themes with comedy and is an inclusive romance.