Breaking Fast (2020)

Quite possibly one of the most engaging rom-coms of recent memory, Breaking Fast is a queer-themed laugher that touches on both sexuality and religion with an organic thumb that assures it never alienates its viewers.

Expanding from his own 2015 short film of the same name, writer/director Mike Mosallam adopts the genre tropes we’d expect but injects them with such genuine heart that it’s easy to forgive such familiarity.  The “meet cute” here happens between somewhat-shy-yet-observant Muslim doctor Mo (Haaz Sleiman) and aspiring actor Kal (Michael Cassidy).  The two have both accepted the position of ‘plus one’ to their respective besties (Amin El Gamal as the rather flamboyant Sam and Christopher J. Hanke as the vapid-lite John) at a typically crowded West Hollywood birthday bash.

The attraction between Mo (short for Mohammed) and Kal (and yes, his name being similar to Superman’s birth name makes way for a particularly endearing bonding moment between the two) is instant, but regardless of whatever magnetism there is, Mo’s dedication to his faith – their meeting coincides with the start of the Muslim practice of Ramadan – means he will abstain from any physical contact; no kissing, no cuddling, and certainly no sex.  Given’s Kal’s impossibly disarming smile and masculine demeanour, it proves tough for Mo to avoid impure thoughts, but it’s through that abstinence that their relationship is able to flourish.

Given Mo’s decision to stay chaste during this time, Breaking Fast could’ve easily leaned into the comedy of having to restrict himself from such activities, but sensing the heightened mentality that could suggest, Mosallam wisely underplays this joke.  There isn’t much comedy to be found in whether or not Mo and Kal will fall into bed with each other, instead the film opts for tenderness and the slight suspense of if their relationship will survive the mental rather than the physical; the honest lines of communication they set for each other at times suggest they may not make it as a couple through the holy month.

Though the film indulges in the comedy of its genre – Sam has his share of choice dialogue, Aline Elasmar does so much with so little as his gossipy cousin, and there’s a karaoke sequence that manages to not be overly saccharine – it’s far more sporadic, with Breaking Fast settling on being consistently amusing and (dare I say it) heart-warming.  It also clearly respects the religion at its core, with one particularly effective sequence detailing the differing views of both Mo and Sam – the former raised in Los Angeles with accepting parents, the latter born in Lebanon – pertaining to how harsh LGBTQ people are treated and how Islam is often used to justify such mistreatment.

It’s sequences like that, combined with the incredibly organic chemistry between Cassidy and Sleiman and the evident nuance, care, and cultural specificity injected into Mosallam’s script, that assist Breaking Fast in rising above genre expectation.

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