John Goldschmidt’s Dough is a film of great warmth, lofty intentions and mediocre screenwriting. It contains the gem of a pleasantly heartfelt if benign dramedy—even if it was written by Charlie Kaufman, I doubt it could ever have been a masterpiece. But not every film has to be. Some films just have to be simple and enjoyable. And while I suspect many people will find Dough charming, I can’t muster up enthusiasm for it. It wastes itself on clumsy plotting, clichéd scenarios and heavy-handed attempts at being Important with a capital “I.”
It centers on the relationship between Nat Dayan (Jonathan Pryce) and Ayyash (Jerome Holder), the former an elderly kosher baker, the latter a teenager looking for a job. Both are outsiders in a way, Nat an observant Jew with a failing business and a local businessman nipping at his heels, Ayyash a Muslim refugee who has to deal pot on the side to support his mother. After accidentally mixing in one of his “shipments” with the dough, Ayyash finds Nat’s business suddenly revitalized with long queues of suspiciously dressed millennials reaching around the corner. The strongest parts of the film involve their bonding, Ayyash becoming a surrogate son, Nat becoming a surrogate father. We’ve seen similar dynamics in other better films, but Pryce and Holder manage to sell their roles (baking pun not intended) with an endearing earnestness.
Simply put, Dough is at its best when it isn’t consciously trying to be good or memorable. Much of the comedy falls flat—Nat’s failed interviews with potential assistants early on are particularly eye-rolling—and most of the scenes involving the evils of prejudice—“I hear Jews bake with blood!”—land with an audible thud. My favorite scenes were the ones where Nat and Ayyash merely spent time together: talking about life and God, discussing the proper way to make and pronounce “challah” and so on.
The less said about the third act, the better. The evil businessman (whom we know is evil because he literally kicks baby carriages and lovingly fondles the model of the shopping center he wants to build once he buys and demolishes Nat’s bakery) discovers Ayyash’s dirty secret, the police get involved, Ayyash’s supplier comes a’knocking, and everything leads up to the inevitable scene where Nat triumphantly refuses to sell his bakery at the last moment. There’s even a bizarre, out-of-place heist sequence where Nat and Ayyash break into the businessman’s office building to steal evidence that would expose the nature of their products. Instead of letting the story reach an organic end, Goldschmidt opts for the predictable and contrived.