by Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
A gay observant Muslim enters into a relationship during the holy month of Ramadan in Mike Mosallam's romantic comedy-drama.
The two lovers "meet cute." One has an overbearing mother and an overly garrulous best friend constantly trying to interfere in his love life. The other has deep-rooted family issues. A trivial misunderstanding nearly derails their relationship before it begins. In other words, Breaking Fast contains the stuff of many formulaic romantic comedy-dramas.
So what makes Mike Mosallam's debut feature so special? The easy answer is that one of its main characters is a religiously observant, gay Muslim, not exactly a familiar character in such stories. The deeper reason is that it's a witty, beautifully observed and well-acted film that proves as engaging as it is boundary-shattering.
After an introductory text defining the terms Ramadan and Iftar (the former refers to the holy month, while the latter refers to the traditional meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during that period), we're introduced to Mo (Haaz Sleiman, The Visitor, Killing Jesus), a prosperous gastroenterologist living in West Hollywood. Shortly before an Iftar with his family, Mo's closeted boyfriend Hassan (Patrick Sabongui) informs him that he'll be marrying a woman in order to maintain his relationship with his traditionalist Muslim family. That's a dealbreaker for Mo, who, when the action picks up a year later, is still single and mourning the failed relationship.
During a 25th birthday party for his flamboyant, non-observant Muslim best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal, entertainingly going over the top at times), Mo is introduced to handsome, stereotypically all-American aspiring actor Kal (Michael Cassidy). There's an immediate chemistry between them that is enhanced when, after Sam and Mo exchange secret comments about him in Arabic, Kal amusingly reveals that he speaks the language fluently as a result of having grown up on a military base in Jordan.
It turns out that Mo and Kal have something else in common: a shared love of Superman, especially the 1978 movie version starring Christopher Reeve, and whose original Krypton name "Kal-El" inspired Kal's. On one of their first dates, the two men see a big-screen revival, during which they adorably act out their favorite scene: Superman, in mid-air, rescuing a plummeting Lois Lane from certain death.
The relationship continues chastely during the month of Ramadan, with Kal, who also knows how to cook traditional Arab food, helping Mo break his daily fast. Their courtship is illustrated by the sort of happy-moments montage seen frequently in rom-coms, although the musical accompaniment of "The Trolley Song" (not the Judy Garland version) signifies it's not of the usual heterosexual variety.
There are darker moments as well, including Kal making a mysterious visit to the hospital where Mo works and a deeply uncomfortable random encounter with a woman (screen veteran Veronica Cartwright) who turns out to be the second wife of Kal's father, from whom he's estranged. Kal's troubling family issues, as well as their differing attitudes toward Islam, eventually cause a rift between the two men. But not one that can't be remedied by the healing powers of good food, among other things.
The film sensitively conveys the ups and downs of a burgeoning romantic relationship complicated by societal and emotional pressures. While writer/director Mosallam sometimes proves too eager to embrace rom-com cliches — Mo's loving but overbearing mother (Rula Gardenier) seems designed to demonstrate that Jewish and Muslim mothers have much in common — he manages to keep the story's principal dramatic and comedic elements from lapsing into predictability.
Much of the credit belongs to the lead performers. Sleiman delivers a restrained, affecting turn that pulls us into his character's complex feelings. And Cassidy — whose previous acting experiences as Jimmy Olson in Batman v Superman and in a recurring role on Smallville no doubt fueled his ability to convincingly play a rabid Superman fan — exudes a relaxed charm. As romantic dramedies go, Breaking Fast doesn't deliver anything new under the sun. That proves to be one of the most refreshing things about it.
Available on VOD and digital
Production companies: Mike Mosallam Productions, Minutehand Pictures
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Haaz Sleiman, Michael Cassidy, Amin El Gamal, Patrick Sabongui, Christopher J. Hanke, Rula Gardenier, Veronica Cartwright, Aline Elasmar
Director/screenwriter: Mike Mosallam
Producers: Seth Hauer, Sarah Bazzi, Bay Dariz, Alex Lampsos, Davin Michaels
Director of photography: Anka Malatynska
Production designer: Jourdan Henderson
Editor: Mike Hugo
Composer: Omar Fadel
Costume designer: Jessyca Bluwal
Casting: Tineka Becker