18 February, 2012

AJFF: "David" (**)

Binyomin Shtaynberger and Muatasem Mishal star in "David"
Director Joel Fendelman's hand is evident throughout "David." Watching the film, you get a great sense of locality. You enjoy walking through this neighborhood in Brooklyn and you feel that the characters and the filmmakers truly know it well. Unfortunately, this is one of the only things I enjoyed about "David." While it's not exactly the 'Coexist'-bumper-sticker-on-film I expected, it doesn't really deliver anything of note.

The film may have been designed to build bridges between American Jewish and Muslim communities, but I don't see how members of either group will be stirred enough by what they see here. It all feels a bit forced, especially once we get to the Yeshiva. Each scene in the classroom seems like we get there at the beginning of class and stay until the end, which would mean class is only about four-and-a-half minutes long. During that brief time, the teacher feeds the students, and the audience, the same jumbled mush of a lecture about culture. The screenplay really suffers during the classroom scenes.

Only outside of the classroom do we see some bright spots. The child actors are fine in their roles, especially the star, Muatasem Mishal. The best performances come from his parents, Gamze Ceylan and Maz Jobrani, a face you might recognize from various movies and television shows. The only subplot that seemed worth caring very much about was that of Aisha and her fight to attend Stanford University.

While I was left completely unconvinced, I fear that "David" is a contender for the Audience Prize at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Crowd-pleasers are always a safe bet for an Audience Prize and while "David" is far from worthy, it ends with many of the plot's conflicts resolved. If there is anything I know about the AJFF's audience, it's that they prefer resolution and happy endings.

2 out of 5 stars.

Judge for yourself. "David" screens again at both Tara and Merchant's Walk on Sunday, February 26th. Get your tickets here.

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