Review: Dough (2015)

Whiff of genuine charm from the leads stops 'Baking Bad' some inches away from being a total snoozer.

Elderly in crisis, youngster who can help, drug being salvation and all sorts of drama bubbling around after use of drug – it’s a struggle to rid a particular TV show from the mind while watching this film, even when the protagonists spend more time in the kitchen than an RV. That said, director John Goldschmidt’s latest, which also marks his return to the craft since 1987, would fill the small-screen mold with utter perfection. In some ways, staying in that state would have been enough for Dough.

But then comes Jonathan Pryce who makes a semi-compelling reason to shell out for the film at the cinema. The powerhouse actor, sporting a beard and kippah, commands every frame with a heartfelt turn as Nat Dayan, the owner of a family pastry joint not so hot in sales and longevity. While he makes his way to the store at 4 a.m. to heat things up at the start of the film, Darfur immigrant Ayyash (Jerome Holder) is rushing home when a drug deal goes south. As Ayyash’s mom, Safa (Natasha Gordon) is obviously not pleased with where her son’s life is heading she introduces him to Nat as someone eager to be the baker’s apprentice.

Although packaged in 2015, Dough accrues much more relevancy when it hits the screens here some two years later. Whether the release window was a total fluke or the studio heads actually have clairvoyant abilities, the main duo and their conflicts, primarily the one about religion, get to leap into reality without demanding much from the actors. Ayyash’s immigrant status, Nat’s Jewish background versus that of his Muslim assistant and the skin-colour difference – all that seems (or perhaps envisioned) as innocuous spices to craft this first-challenging-then-beneficial relationship suddenly assume a social commentary stance. Reinforcing this is the nature of Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman’s screenplay, which is direct in both structure and at fashioning other characters’ comments about Jews and Muslims. They’re all played for (some effective) laughs, but should a remark evolve into an insult it is appropriately responded with a scoff, taut explanation or reprimand. Then again, there’s a wee jolt upon seeing Ayyash being asked to relocate his prayer mat for fear of MI5 and the police’s description of the site of a fire as early Hanukkah in a time when society grows increasingly wary of thy neighbour.

Nat, however, has a valid reason to fume at the house next door – it is the shop of Sam Cotton (Philip Davis), the bigwig of a corporation whose car park project is in a snag because Nat refuses to sell his property. This sub-battle forms the structure for an unexpectedly heist-like climax, which is bolstered by an equally surprising cinematic score from Lorne Balfe, but Cotton’s cartoonish characterization and Davis’s corresponding performance submit only artificiality to the footage. Just as soon as one settles to the notion that Nat and Ayyash are “lives unfolding,” Cotton appears to ensure that everything is “people playing dress-up.”

Other than Cotton, our characters’ struggles also take the form of drug boss Victor (Ian Hart), widow Joanna (Pauline Collins) and Nat’s wealthy lawyer son Stephen (Daniel Caltagirone). Though Ayyash’s need to make dough and Nat’s reluctance to abandon his trade (plus heal his also-broken heart) provide neat parallels and keep the plot lively, they again make the film less special than it could have been. Nat and Ayyash alone have enough discrepancies – in age, faith and method to create sales – that other characters seem superfluous. Where Dough could have been rendered as a thorough interpersonal inspection of its leads are replaced with the beats of a casual comedy. It seems certain in wanting to be the latter, devoted to its recipe-like story where every part will turn out exactly as one would predict.

And from where Dough is looking at, this is something to be glad about. The argument has merit – Pryce and Holder’s performances have flavour, the premise is quirky enough to warrant attention, and in today’s rather dire world it asserts, often with little subtlety, that acceptance is the most fulfilling consumable available. Take this exchange as an example:

“You know what ‘apprentice’ means, do you?” Nat asks his young niece, Olivia (Melanie Freeman), when she offers to work for him just for cookies. “Like the show – ‘You’re fired!’” she replies. “What? No,” he stammers, “it means you’re hired!”

Dough is released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on the 2nd June 2017.

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