This is a satirical comedy on religious identity, centred around the Islam and Jewish religions. It tells the story of Mahmud Nasir, played convincingly by Omid Djalili, who on clearing through his recently deceased mother’s belongings, discovers that he was adopted. Following further exploration, he learns that his real name is Shimshillowitz, which can only be Jewish, a disaster in light of his son’s recent engagement to the daughter of a prominent Pakistani jihadist.
Going through this mid-life crisis, he plays around with the idea of being Jewish, even befriending his Jewish neighbour, who trains him in ‘the art’ of Jewishness, ie. not by learning Hebrew, but by dancing to klezmir music, attending a bar mitzvah, at which he tells Jewish jokes, and practicing wearing the yarmulke, which incidentally gets him into trouble at an Islamic rally he attends, headed by his son’s prospective father-in-law, soon to become his opponent. He is in an awkward position, as he needs to maintain a strong Islamic identity for the successful marriage of his son to his new fundamentalist family, but must also embrace his Jewish inheritance if he is to meet his biological father, who is on his death-bed.
The comedy is slapstick and wayward, and the silliness is what makes it funny. The best scenes are between Mahmud, and his new Jewish friend, Lenny, played by Richard Schiff, as they verbally spar with each other in reverse stereotypical fashion, both rejecting their religious identities, Mahmud lashing an insulting ‘anti-Semite’ in the direction of Lenny. The other memorable scene for me was when he was at breakfast the morning after he discovers he was a Jew, and he hears Jew in every sentence, (‘Do you..? etc)
While I enjoyed the humour in the film, its dramatic slant didn’t work so well. His wife was presented as a ‘too good to be true’ character, whose role was neither realistic nor comic. The ending of the film was pathetically syrupy and contrived, whereby Mahmud discovers a secret that will destroy the career and reputation of his opponent, the Islamic fundamentalist, and which he reveals publicly, giving a ‘happy-ever-after’ tone to a film that had so much more comic potential than that.