A Jew and a Muslim walk into a baker’s shop. No, wait, come back. This isn’t a review from the latest Roy Chubby Brown tour, it’s the plot of Jonathan Benson’s new British society comedy Dough.
Aayash (Holder) is a young Muslim lad struggling to make headway into his new life in England after recently moving from Africa with his mother. Despondent from a lack of success, he is offered work as a weed dealer by local villain Victor Gerrard (Hart) but on the condition that he gets a cover job, one to explain his sudden influx of cash to any authorities sniffing around. As luck would have it, an opportunity appears in the local bakers in which his hard-working mum is a cleaner. The bakers, a long-standing Jewish family-run business, of which Nat Dayan (Pryce) is the latest proprietor, is fighting a losing battle against local supermarket Cottons, run by Sam Cotton (Davis), who wants to run him out of business. Luckily for all, Aayash accidentally pours a sackful of ganja into the bread mix and unsurprisingly trade suddenly picks up. Hilarity, apparently, ensues.
Dough could be forgiven for its stereotypes of grumpy, old Jewish shopkeeper and disillusioned, young black Muslim boy if it ever amounted to anything. Both Nat and Aayash are in sadly familiar situations; Nat, the old shopkeeper staunchly defending the purity of his family business, refusing to move with the times – ‘We’ve NEVER sold brownies!’ – while supermarket chains and increasing rents threaten his livelihood. Aayash is the good-natured young African Muslim who sees no future in the country he has been unceremoniously dumped into – ‘Who would give me a job?’ – and gets tempted down the dark get-rich-quick path of drug dealing. These are signs of the times in 2017 England but both have been portrayed many times before and with more care and attention to detail; it lacks the soul of Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor for instance.
Pryce and Holder’s lead performances are equally great, particularly the excellent Holder’s Ayyash, but they are constantly struggling against a failing plot and lack of character depth. At no point do the characters engage with their audience, and that’s unfortunate given the possible opportunities of both. Hart and Davis are predictable but dependable as the drug lord and dastardly businessman respectively, tempting as it is to scream ‘He’s behind you’ every time either of them grace the screen. The directing is solid enough under Goldschmiidt’s experienced leadership, although a final action sequence feels a little too much like Jason Bourne directed by Gerald Thomas, but the director also struggles with a script which attempts to become a parody of itself. The narrative drags its heels along a well-trodden path with no notable deviations or surprises, and becomes so increasingly daft that by the time the big emotional impact is attempted in the third act, it simply doesn’t resonate.
Dough’s underlying message is as subtle as a McCartney/Wonder facial tattoo yet none of that would matter if the character arcs ever deviated from the mean, or the plot was not maddeningly linear. Benson’s script is not funny enough to be a comedy nor dramatic enough to be a drama, so it sits like an uncomfortable nervous kid with jam around his mouth, somewhere in between. Given the current political landscape and increasing intolerance in society, it feels like a great opportunity to tell a light-hearted and important story has been sadly missed.
Dir: John Goldschmidt
Scr: Jonathan Benson, Jez Freedman
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Jerome Holder, Phil Davis, Ian Hart
Prd: Wolfgang Esenwein, György Gattyán, John Goldschmidt, Andras Somkuti
Music: Lorne Balfe
DOP: Peter Hannan
Run Time: 94 Minutes
Dough is out in cinemas now.