When you mix senior citizens and pot, what could possibly go wrong? Could one imagine dogs talking to them? Could another break up squabbling girlfriends and show them all a good time? You never know, but those are two outlandish movie examples. If you take one look at the doctored-up theatrical poster for the independent film “Dough,” you might get the same impression of an absurd romp to come. Very quickly within John Goldschmidt’s film, you will see the depth behind the film’s comedic costume. The film opens locally on April 29 at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema in the Lakeview/Lincoln Park neighborhoods. For better or worse, “Dough” is a strong mentor-mentee film that just happens to have a special funny ingredient in its cooking that adds wrinkle and flavor.
Jerome Holder is Ayyash, a suburban London transplanted teen from the war-ridden Darfur region of western Sudan. Derided for his color and Muslim faith, he cannot find a paying job to contribute to the household he shares with his hard-working mother Safa (Natasha Gordon). Buying time and partying with his equally loser friends, Ayyash settles on moving marijuana for cash for local criminal heavy Victor Gerrard (Ian Hart). The dealer insists that Ayyash get a normal day job as a cover. One falls in his lap by way of his mother.
Safa is employed as a clean-up woman for local widowed Jewish business owner Nat Dayon, played by headliner Johnathan Pryce. He runs a lowly bakery that has been in his family for over a century. Dwindling customers and increased competition from a neighboring supermarket chain run by Sam Cotton (“Vera Drake” actor Philip Davis) have crushed Nat’s business into debt and near-failure. Making matters worse, his most recent apprentice baker has left him for Cotton and his own son Stephen (Daniel Caltagirone of “The Pianist”) wants nothing to do with the family business.
As a favor to Safa, Nat takes Ayyash on as his new baking apprentice. Ayyash is clumsy at first and Nat keeps him at a distrusting distance because of his religious differences. Soon, the two hit their stride of education and partnership. Nat sees a little of the son he never had and Ayyash helps modernize the shop. After dumps of Ayyash’s unsold pot begins to land in batches of the store’s baked goods (unbeknownst to Nat), increased public interest and line-out-the-door sales begin to boom, much to the chagrin of the rivaling Cotton.
Jerome Holder is an impressive young actor that brings the right balance of angst and optimism. Across from him often, Johnathan Pryce shows that he can still consummately and convincingly play off any actor across from him, be it a drunken pirate or a secret agent, and make them look like a million bucks. The two create an engaging connection that compels your interest in seeing how all of this turns out.
If you’re looking for the gaudy pot farce being sold on the lobby poster, you have come to the wrong place. The positive messages and the underlying dramatic core of “Dough” emerge forward more than any gag. Some lighthearted cannabis jokes and senior humor are present to keep matters light, as is a screwball heist scene that doesn’t quite fit the film’s more ambitious goals. Amiable and harmless, “Dough” can be a cordial treat, one as unlikely as it is cheeky.
Lesson #1: Pot sells— Just look at the money being made in Colorado alone last year from the many avenues of their marijuana industry. There’s a reason green makes green. Imagine if it was legal everywhere.
Lesson #2: The unseen struggle of ethnic and religious immigrants— The struggle of Ayyash and Safa is one element of the narrative that is never played for laughs. The mother-and-son duo eek out an existence through benevolence and hard work, but still appear nearly invisible thanks to the bullying and bias of their native neighbors.
Lesson #3: The devotion of running a family business— Nat possesses a resolute commitment to maintaining the tradition and dignity of the bakery and his family’s name. It troubles him greatly that his son will not continue it or that hard times may force him to close.
Lesson #4: The fruits of a productive mentor-mentee apprentice relationship— From the unlikely place of a Muslim working with a Jew, Ayyash and Nat help each other. Ayyash learns purpose, job skills, and maturity from Nat, while he teaches the old man about the internet, new revenue, and new product ideas. The benefits are present for both sides because of their strong and productive relationship.