A glossy biopic of Somali nomad turned supermodel/celebrity activist Waris Dirie, “Desert Flower” won’t be blooming in many Anglophone markets. Pulpy script, played by a largely Brit cast on sitcom autopilot, is partly redeemed by a dignified perf from Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede as the runway star who spoke out against African female circumcision. But social politics come in a poor third after gorgeous East African landscapes and rags-to-riches comedy-drama.
German-based Yank Sherry Hormann (“Father’s Day”) made several slick romantic comedies in the ’90s, and brings a mainstream feel to the material here. Escaping from Somalia (repped by neighboring Djibouti), where she was genitally mutilated as a kid, Dirie (Kebede) ends up stranded in London (repped in interiors by Cologne) as an illegal immigrant working in a burger bar. She’s spotted by a famous photog (Timothy Spall, cuddly), befriended by a jobless ballerina (Sally Hawkins, goofy), beloved by a gauche handyman (Craig Parkinson, channeling Rhys Ifans) and groomed by a bossy agent (Juliet Stevenson, campy). Sumptuous African vistas by onetime Abel Ferrara d.p. Ken Kelsch, supported by Martin Todsharow’s lush score, seem only to trivialize the serious issues.