Breaking Fast

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"You - you've got me? Who's got you?"
"A sweet-natured romcom, Breaking Fast takes on some difficult issues around what it takes to love somebody and to accept love." | Photo: courtesy of Iftar Productions

It's never easy to feel torn between different loved ones, nor to feel less important, as chosen family, than the people one's partner grew up with. When Mo's boyfriend (Patrick Sabongui) leaves him because he's afraid of being outed to his conservative Muslim father, Mo (Haaz Sleiman) takes it very badly. A year later, he's still in a sulk, and his best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal) is determined to get him back into the dating game. Emotionally blackmailed into attending Sam's birthday party, Mo steadfastly tries to avoid being set up - until he meets Sam's friend Kal (Michael Cassidy), who is not at all like what he expected.

A sweet-natured romcom, Breaking Fast takes on some difficult issues around what it takes to love somebody and to accept love. It's set against the backdrop of Ramadan, with Mo's first surprise being that this all-American white guy speaks fluent Arabic. He also, as it turns out, knows how to cook traditional Arab dishes, and is keen to share iftar with Mo, whom he knows has no family nearby. Though Mo is wary of commitment, the two gradually bond over food (and a shared love of Superman) - until Mo's tactlessness and rigid views about people who have rigid views threaten to tear them apart.

It's only fairly recently that films about people who are part of the LGBTQ+ community and have other major aspects to their identity have started to come to the fore. Outfest has been at the forefront of that, but whilst a lot of attention has been given to the experiences of gay Christians, a striking number of people remain unaware that it's possible to be gay and Muslim. With this in mind, it's nice to see a leading character who is unapologetically both, and accepted as such by his family and most of his friends - a more common experience than you might think. Mo's faith is important to him and this is reflected in many aspects of his day to day life. Problems arise, however, when he expects every other gay Muslim's experience to mirror his and dismisses those who are homophobic as not following true Islam.

Alongside romance and religion, the big focal point in Mo's life is family, and he's looking forward to getting together with them for Eid. We cut back and forth between his home and theirs in assorted conversations, a treat for viewers because it means we get to enjoy Rula Gardenier's wonderful performance as his mother. There's fantastic chemistry between the family members that gives these scenes the warmth and energy we need as an antidote to Mo's sulking, whilst we wait to see if Kal can break past that or if Mo will see sense and be willing to do something different to get his man.

There's a lot here for people from all walks of life to enjoy. Write/director Mike Mosallam makes an effort to ensure that viewers unfamiliar with Muslim culture are brought up to speed, which sometimes makes the film seem a little clumsy, but by and large he gets away with it. Sleiman's grudging lead performance gradually opens up to let us see more of what's going on beneath the surface and it's a pleasure to see Mo opening up not just to love but to life.

Just one word of warning: eat before you watch this film and have more food ready for when you finish, because it will leave you so hungry that you'll otherwise be chewing on the furniture.

Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2020
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Mo, a practising Muslim living in West Hollywood, is learning to navigate life post heartbreak. Enter Kal, an All-American guy who surprises Mo by offering to break fast with him during the holy month of Ramadan.

Director: Mike Mosallam

Writer: Mike Mosallam

Starring: Veronica Cartwright, Michael Cassidy, Haaz Sleiman, Patrick Sabongui

Year: 2020

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US


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