Written, produced and directed by Iraqi Kurdish exile Jay Jonroy and based on a true story, "David and Layla" is an earnest, frequently funny comedy about stateless persons and the looming cliches that make Muslims and Jews so wary of each other. Completely accessible and non-threatening tale of the unlikely romance between a quintessential Jewish New Yorker and a lovely Kurdish refugee is forced in places, charming in others.

Written, produced and directed by Iraqi Kurdish exile Jay Jonroy and based on a true story, “David and Layla” is an earnest, frequently funny comedy about stateless persons and the looming cliches that make Muslims and Jews so wary of each other. Completely accessible and non-threatening tale of the unlikely romance between a quintessential Jewish New Yorker and a lovely Kurdish refugee is forced in places, charming in others. Painless if sometimes hackneyed intro to the customs and attitudes surrounding two of the world’s great religions is a natural for Jewish and other fests.

David Fine (David Moscow) hosts a man-in-the-street show on local TV in Brooklyn called “Sex and Happiness,” but finds himself increasingly frustrated by his JAP fiancee Abby’s (Callie Thorne) demands. Fearless wise guy David is drawn to mysterious looker Layla (Shiva Rose), a young woman whose immediate family and boyfriend were gassed by Saddam Hussein.

Layla has been taken in by prosperous relatives and illegally earns money as the slinky but never vulgar warm-up act for a traditional belly dancer; her aunt and uncle (Anna George, Ed Chemaly) think she’s attending nursing school. U.S. immigration authorities give her 30 days to leave the country, but a sympathetic inspector tells Layla it’d be hard to deport her if she were married to an American citizen.

Following mostly specious tips from his French cameraman, David courts smart, sharp Layla; against all odds, they fall for each other. Dreading their respective families’ reactions, much subterfuge results via a sort of two-pronged “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” for the 21st century.

It’s a lot quicker for David to convert to Islam than for Layla to qualify as a Jewess, however, and what transpires when one of the chosen people chooses to become a Muslim is pretty funny if hardly subtle.

Narrative is so ambitious it often feels overstuffed, but indie production boasts a brand of immigrant chutzpah that highlights the “anything is possible” side of the American Dream with energy to burn.

Production values are pleasing, varied score a plus. Perfs are of varying quality with some narrowly escaping the stale side of cliche, but Rose excels as a self-reliant damsel in distress worth rooting for.

David and Layla

U.S.-Iraq

Production

A NewRoz Films presentation of a Films Intl. and Intrinsic Value Films production. (International sales: NewRoz Films, New York.) Produced by Jay Jonroy. Co-producers, Aimee Schoof, Richard Horowitz, Gill Holland. Directed, written by Jay Jonroy, inspired by a true story.

Crew

Camera (color), Harlan Bosmajian; editor, Egon Kirincic; music, Richard Horowitz, John Lissauer; production designer, Peter Yesair; costume designer, Zulema Griffin; sound (Dolby), Daniel Johnson; assistant director, Michael A. Moffa; second unit director, Joseph Aspromonti; casting, Adrienne Stern. Reviewed at Avignon Film Festival (competing), June 22, 2006. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

David Moscow, Shiva Rose, Callie Thorne, Peter Van Wagner, Polly Adams, Will Janowitz, Ed Chemaly, Anna George, Tibor Feldman.

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