by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday April 29, 2016

'Dough'  (Source:Menemsha Films)

The ancient rivalry between the French and the British seems to be finding new life in a competition over who can make the funnier film about bakers lacing their product with cannabis.

That's to our advantage: "Dough" may have several of the same elements as the French comedy "Paulette," what with an elderly main character facing poverty, a mean neighborhood drug dealer, and elements of racism and anti-Muslim prejudice being common to both films, but the genre seems to have enough rom to accommodate both. "Dough" remains hot and fresh.

The baker in this case is Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce), who is struggling to keep his bakery -- a longtime family business -- operating. But times are tough: His son (Daniel Caltagirone) has no interest in the trade, and has gone off to become a lawyer; sales are stagnant; and a business rival named Cotton (Philip Davis) is laying schemes to acquire the bakery's storefront so that the grocery store next door can expand into the bakery's space. To that end he's encouraging the bakery's landlord, a widow named Joanna (Pauleen Collins), to entertain visions of selling off the property in order to move away and retire in style.

The very last straw comes when Cotton lures away Nat's assistant with the promise of a better-paying job -- something the young man needs now that he and his wife are expecting a child. How can Nat get by on his own? Stubbornly, the old man refuses to give up; then his cleaning lady proposes the idea that her son, Ayash (Jerome Holder), might take the job the old assistant has left.

All sorts of complications ensue, some of them because Nat's customers refuse to buy bread baked by a Muslim, but others arising from the fact that Ayash has also agreed to deal drugs for a fellow called Victor (Ian Hart). It's not that Ayash is evil; it's more that he's desperate and not sure how else he can earn money to help his mother with the family expenses. (Ayash's father is dead, killed by extremists in their home country, but his mother insists that he's merely been detained and will join them in England soon.) By the time the bakery job comes his way, Ayash is already involved with Victor.

But -- and here's where "Dough" and "Paulette" converge -- when Ayash adds his wares to the bakery's product, the result is economic magic: Soon he's selling "special" treats to select customers, and business is booming both for the bakery and for Victor.

The film glosses over some things that are a little too uncomfortable to bear close scrutiny. The temple that dropped the bakery's services once Ayash started work there resumes its custom with no little eagerness, happy about the heavenly challah bread Nat's assistant is so good at baking; a family dinner becomes lively, with everyone at the table -- including Nat's young granddaughter -- having an uproariously good time. (The family attribute their fun to a new brand of wine.)

Questions aside as to the suitability of such secular, adult treats when it comes to religious communities and children, the film rattles along deftly, tracing its obvious story arcs with verve and humor. You know, of course, that either the law or Victor -- or both -- are going to crash the party, but you don't know just how. You also know that the vile Cotton, with his shark's grin, is circling, looking for a vulnerability to exploit, and Joanna is pining for something more than a sunny place to live out her golden years, and she has her eye on Nat. Exactly how all those things resolve who't exactly surprise you, but you're still more likely than not to come away with a smile.


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Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.