A comedy about a Muslim who discovers he’s actually a Jew?
There’s a “Three’s Company” plot prepped for slapstick. To meet the birth father he never knew, Mahmud Nasir (comedian Omid Djalili) must get in touch with his inner Yid while hiding this new identity from his family. Though director Josh Appignanesi and writer David Baddiel clean out the bank of Islamic and Jewish stereotypes, the story surprisingly reveals both sides of the Semitic coin.
Mahmud’s Jewish spirit guide appears in the form of the divorced and surly Lenny Goldberg (The resident jew of “The West Wing,” Richard Schiff, who really shines while kvetching). Goldberg’s religious and cultural philosophy is pretty simple: If Judaism is all bullshit, at least it’s his bullshit. With a massive star around his neck and a ton of Holocaust books on his shelves, Goldberg claims to typify the Classic American Self-Hating Jew. As he plays Hatikvah on a loop, he calls it a song that makes you want to “put all your possessions in a wooden cart and pull them sadly and slowly away from your burning village.”
Of course, Goldberg’s lessons (including the proper pronunciation of “Oy”) aren’t enough to grant Mahmud access to his dying birth dad, but that’s the least of his worries. His daughter is running around the house with a plastic sword declaring Jihad while his son prepares to marry the stepdaughter of a fundamentalist cleric. To impress his soon-to-be in-laws, Mahmud has to bone up on the Koran between Jew lessons. And for the cleric, being Muslim goes hand in hand with hating Israel. In the best executed joke, Mahmud heads straight from Anti-Israel rally to a Bar Mitzvah.
Comedy should be confrontational, and “The Infidel” crosses the line more than a few times. Still, the light style somehow keeps even touchy political and religious conflicts breezy. Like “Bend it Like Beckham,” the moral is “Be yourself, hey, but blend just a tad.” That wrap-up might be a little too simple for some, but without it the film would devolve into the same old arguments that both peoples have been warring over for millennia. This film is full of laughs for Jew, Muslim and even gentile (but mostly for the Jews and Muslims).