Breaking Fast (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): A romance during Ramadan

“Breaking Fast” is a modest but engaging queer film to be appreciated for several good reasons. While it is essentially your average conventional romantic comedy film, the movie colors its familiar plot with interesting cultural elements via its gay Muslim hero, and you will probably find yourself alternatively amused and intrigued by that. Above all, its hero’s unexpected romance at the center of the story is genuinely touching despite a number of plot contrivances during its predictable third act, and we certainly come to root for him a lot even while recognizing the clichéd aspects of the ending.

During the opening scene, the movie shows one big annual family event held at the residence of Mo (Haaz Sleiman), a gay Arab American doctor who has worked in LA for several years. As a devout Muslim, Mo certainly values the Ramadan period during which he and many other Muslims fast during daytime and then eat evening meal, which is known as iftah, after sunset, and the last evening of Ramadan period has been a very important time for him and his dear family members, who have always come to his residence for having the hearty last iftah together.

However, not long after he cheerfully brings pieces of traditional bread to his family waiting for him at his residence, Mo gets a disagreeable news from his boyfriend Hassan (Patrick Sabongui), who has not come out of his closet yet in contrast to Mo. While he has avoided getting married to a woman as much as possible, Hassan eventually succumbs to the pressures from his family mainly due to being scared of getting his homosexuality exposed at any moment, and his eventual decision surely lets down Mo a lot.

After one year, Mo has not fully recovered from his breakup with Hassan, so his best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal), who is incidentally your typical flamboyant gay character, attempts to cheer him up a little. He invites Mo to his upcoming birthday party, and Mo reluctantly agrees to go there, though he is not going to stay long there once he and others celebrate Sam’s birthday together.

However, Mo finds himself staying a little longer than expected when he comes across a hunky Caucasian dude named Kal (Michael Cassidy), who is also incidentally not so interested in having a fun time at the party. When Mo is about to leave the place, he encounters Kal by coincidence, and then they come to walk outside together for a while. As they talk more with each other, Mo finds himself attracted to Kal, and Kal is also clearly drawn to Mo, especially after they share their common enthusiasm toward a certain famous comic book hero.

After this brief romantic moment which is cut short by his reluctance, Mo does not expect to meet Kal again, but, what do you know, he later comes across Kal again at his workplace, and he is certainly delighted when Kal is willing to have nightly iftars with him. As the son of an American soldier who spent lots of time in Jordan during his childhood years, Kal is quite familiar with Ramadan, and he surely respects Mo’s religious devotion – and how that does not clash at all with being a gay.

As the days and nights of Ramadan pass by, Mo and Kal become closer to each other than before, but, of course, there come a series of conflicts arising between them. While it turns out that Kal has his own private issues he does not want to talk about, Mo comes to realize the considerable gap between him and Sam, who has a bitter viewpoint on religion unlike Mo and sharply points out Mo’s blind spots during a rather artificial argument scene later in the story.

During the third act, the screenplay by director/writer Mike Mosallam, which is expanded from his 2015 short film of the same name, juggles a bit too many elements together before the expected resolution at the end of the story, but this weak aspect is compensated by the considerable humor and sensitivity brought into the story and characters. A number of private moments between Mo and Kal are warm and intimate even though they stick to abstinence due to the Ramadan rules, and we also get a few uproarious moments including the scene where Mo tries to handle an embarrassing circumstance in front of Kal without breaking any of those Ramadan rules.

Above all, the movie depends a lot on the good low-key chemistry between its two main cast members. Haaz Sleiman, who was memorable as one of the principal characters in Tom McCarthy’s “The Visitor” (2007), gives an earnest performance which imbues his rather clean-cut hero with sincerity and personality, and he and Michael Cassidy, who holds his own place well beside Sleiman, click well with each other right from the beginning. Although his supporting character often feels like a broad caricature, Amin El Gamal enlivens the screen whenever he enters, and Patrick Sabongui is commendable in his brief but substantial appearance in the film.

In conclusion, “Breaking Fast” does not break any new ground in its genre territory, but it is still fairly good on the while in addition to distinguishing itself to some degree via specific cultural background and details. Yes, it is always interesting to observe people different from me, and, in my inconsequential opinion, the movie did that well besides being moving and entertaining.

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