Friday, January 18, 2013

May in the Summer (2013)

Director: Cherien Dabis

Starring: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf, Alexander Siddig

More info: IMDb

Plot: High off the success of her first book and planning to marry Ziad, her sensible, stable and studious fiance, May has it all. At least that's what she'd like people to believe. Reunited with her family in Amman, Jordan, she's thrust back into the chaos of her former existence. Her headstrong mother Nadine, a born-again Christian disapproves of her Muslim fiance so thoroughly she plans to boycott the wedding. Her younger sisters Dalia and Yasmine behave like her children. And her estranged father Edward is suddenly and suspiciously interested in making amends. As her wedding day looms, May finds herself more and more confronted by the trauma of her parents divorce. And soon, her once carefully structured life spins hopelessly out of control.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Nah.

Do I recommend it?  Yes, even for those of you with male naughty bits.

I see an awful lot of strange movies (OVERDOSE OF DEGRADATION (1970), anyone?) - horror, exploitation, science fiction, action, etc.  It seems rare these days that I would sit still long enough to watch a film such as this.  MAY isn't the kind of movie that I'm likely to slap in the DVD player.  I'd have to be in the mood for it and that doesn't happen much.  It would take an outside force for me to watch it and most of the time I would be better for it, ashamed of my reluctance.  This was the film that opened Sundance this year and I can see why.  Dabis has fashioned a light drama sprinkled with enough humor (often subtle) to make it a very pleasant experience.  The performances are strong.  Dabis put herself in front of the camera for the first time and does a wonderful job.  Malouf, who plays May's sister Yasmine, makes her feature debut, Shawkat, the other sister Dalia, gets the most laughs (you'll know her from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003) as Maeby Funke) and Abbass provides a strong and determined mother, Nadine, to the girls.  And what a neat surprise to see Bill Pullman show up as Nadine's ex and father to the three girls.

Another major character is the location of Amman, Jordan.  It's not only the sepia tone look of the landscape and buildings but getting a taste of the culture shock provides a few laughs at the expense of those who look upon women as less than men.  There's a moment in the final act where May stands on the top of a mesa in the desert and sees the beautiful landscape around her in every direction.  She stands alone and finds the answer she's been searching for.  It's breathtaking.  It doesn't look too unlike the American Southwest except for the camels.  From this point until the end it's a full on drama with a conclusion that wraps up nicely (perhaps a little too neatly) where every major character fulfills their arc.

Watching this with a packed theater was a real treat.  A movie such as this will likely only be seen at home.  I'm sure this will get a limited theatrical release, maybe more if they're fortunate.  Movies are meant to be watched like this, in a theater with a few hundred others.  It enhances the experience.  Even with an intimate film like this there's something that's added by sharing it.  I don't I'm getting all weird.  Next thing you know I'll be writing screenplays for SEX AND THE CITY 3, 4 and 5.  Would it have killed Dabis to put in a car chase?

At the end of the show Dabis and some of the cast and crew came out for a Q&A.  It was interesting to hear that Dabis came to a previous Sundance writer's workshop with this script and realized that she needed have May make her big decision (whether or not to marry her fiance) near the end of the film rather than before it started.  It's remarkable how a single change like that can affect a film as it would be a very different picture.  For the first of nearly thirty films I'll see over the next week and a half, this was a great experience and hopefully not the best I'll have at this year's festival.

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