Magazine article The Spectator

No Laughing Matter

Magazine article The Spectator

No Laughing Matter

Article excerpt

The Infidel

15, Nationwide

I wish, wish, wish, wish, wish I had liked The Infidel better. I wanted to like it. I longed to like it. And I did think it would be a hoot. It's written by David Baddiel, a thoughtful, clever and witty writer (usually).

It stars Omid Djalili, who has a lovely, big, funny face and is always an engaging physical presence. The premise is neat and brave and topical: it's about a Muslim who discovers he is adopted and was actually born Jewish.

It sounded right up my street, as I do like to laugh at religion. Some days, I am so busy laughing at religion I don't even have time to tie my own shoelaces, which is why I trip up a lot. But? It's not very funny and, partway through, it's almost as if it tires of itself, and just collapses clumsily into a heap of tiresome cliches. It even ends with a tear jerker of a speech about how God made us all the same underneath which, aside from anything else, is patently untrue. I, for example, have a famously ravishing spleen.

My kidneys are ordinary enough, but my spleen? Gorgeous!

So, what do we have here exactly? Here, we have Mr Djalili playing Mahmud, a Londoner who owns a minicab firm, and tries to be a good Muslim although not in any fanatical way. He has a lovely wife (Archie Panjabi, somewhat underused, as she has only ever to look perplexed), a little daughter and a son who is hoping to marry the stepdaughter of an Islamic radical, who doesn't seem that radical, but as one of his supporters has a hook for a hand that clinches it, I suppose. Anyway, Mahmud is clearing out his parents' house on the death of his mother when he stumbles across his adoption certificate and discovers he was born Solly Shimshillewitz. He locates his birth father, who is dying in a Jewish old people's home, but can't get near him because there is a rabbi (Matt Lucas, can you believe) on guard and this rabbi says Mahmud has to learn about Judaism first. Mahmud never makes any inquiries about his birth mother, which is weird, considering Judaism is matrilineal and if she hadn't have been Jewish, we could all have gone home, but there you are. This isn't a film which lets anything get in the way of the story it wants to tell. …

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