Arranged, with its feel-good story of a friendship between a young Ashkenazi Jewess and a Muslim woman, could be just what the world needs at a time when there is almost boundless tension in the Middle East and around the planet. It's also possible that this movie is a good film trapped within a framework of preachy anti-clichés. In reality, it's a little of both. The film is a softly funny look at the lives of two young Brooklyn public school teachers who find that, even with the religious gulf yawning between them, they have a whole lot in common.
As the story unfolds, Both Rochel and Nasira prove to be strong-willed, modern women who just happen to be pious in their beliefs and dedicated to their respective traditions. The call of the West is personified by the school's principal, a secular Jew who can't understand how young women today would choose a headscarf over the modernity that she burned her bra to help bring about. The girls bond over their disbelief at Principal Jacoby's attempts to ‘modernize' them... and over their impending betrothals.
Nasira's down-to-earth take on her parents' matchmaking is the opposite of the haphazard swath Rochel cuts through New York's eligible Jewish men -- which is where the film goes off the rails: The wonderfully intimate touch and gentle humour that the writer/director team of Crespo and Schaefer bring to so much of this movie disappear as they dive straight into a formulaic serial-date montage that owes its vapid humour to a series of maladroit, two-dimensional caricatures of Jewish men. It's a shortcut that chops the film off at the knees, to be sure, but it's also just the most visible of the film's jarring shortcuts.
From a special-needs student who Rochel is warned can be "a handful," but who never develops into anything, to Nasira's secret-agent-ish caper to set Rochel up with her brother's Jewish friend, Arranged repeatedly fails to take the high road, falling instead on old Hollywood chestnuts, like the one where the blind character feels the face of his seeing companion to show tenderness and cinematographic artistry all in one go.
But Crespo and Schaefer save the worst for last: the final scene is a transparently self-conscious and ham-handed last shot that does nothing to help the movie, and a whole lot to discredit the whole deal.
Dan Hershey's cinematography is intimate and revealing without ever becoming intrusive, and saves several scenes from becoming unbearable. But the movie's brightest spots are the two leads, Frances Benhamou and the ethereally lovely Zoe Lister Jones. Both bring humanity and sensitivity to their characters, helping to cast a sympathetic, human light on Arranged's moralizing. There are many beautiful moments between the two main characters, and in their interactions with their families. These are the moments that really make the film into the occasionally didactical but ultimately enjoyable movie that it is.
Jesse Corbeil is a freelance writer. You can find him at www.jessecorbeil.ca