Dough ***

An old Jew, a young Muslim, lots of marijuana, plenty of laughs.

Is it worth $10? Yes

Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) lives in the past. A devout Jew in London, the sixty-something senior runs a failing kosher bakery. His wife died two years ago, and he clings to the bakery because he used to run it with his father. He’s lonely, overworked, stubborn and prideful, a stick-in-the-mud who insists he knows what’s best even though the world has passed him by.

At the start of “Dough,” a seriocomedy from director John Goldschmidt, Nat’s employee Danny (Dominic Garfield) resigns to work for the large grocery chain next door. Annoyed at the impertinence, Nat seeks a new apprentice, and finds one in a teenage Muslim from Darfur named Ayyash (Jerome Holder). What Nat doesn’t know is that Ayyash also sells marijuana in order to support himself and his mother, as they are immigrants still establishing themselves in their new home. Serendipity intervenes, at least for a while, when Ayyash accidentally drops a bag of weed inside some dough and their “baked” business goes sky “high.”

Meanwhile, a corporate tycoon (Philip Davis) wants Nat to sell his shop so he can put up a big grocery store, but Nat refuses even though Nat’s son (Daniel Caltagirone) thinks he should sell and retire. Nat’s neighbor, Joanna (Pauline Collins), doesn’t want to sell either, as her store is one of the last vestiges she has of her late husband. And always dangerously lurking in the background is Ayyash’s drug boss (Ian Hart), who gets wind of the bakery’s success and doesn’t take kindly to it. 

Goldschmidt’s film, from a script by Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman, takes a handful of serious topics and handles them with gentility and a soft heart. It’s not often – or likely – that you’ll see an aging baker, struggling immigrants, bombastic drug lord, lonely widow and scheming corporate exec so deftly balanced within the same story, but each is a convincing and essential part of the narrative.

This is not a bawdy, bonkers laugh-out-loud comedy, though a few choice moments will have you roaring. The humor is more subtle and situational, which allows the film to maintain an element of seriousness and not devolve into farce. Because of this the social messages hit home, and they are plentiful: A Muslim and a Jew working peacefully together, small businesses holding their own against corporate giants, the need for companionship after losing the love of your life, an immigrant’s struggle to make end’s meet in an unforgiving society, the recklessness of youth and how it impacts those around them, etc. None are touched upon with great depth or insight, but all are handled with fearless warmth.

“Dough” is a nice story that delivers a serious message with the sweetness of challah bread. It will of course play better with an older Jewish crowd, but the universality of its humor and themes make it easily accessible for all.

Did you know?
Pryce plays the High Sparrow on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

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