In between the multi million dollar produced summer comedies, musicals and science fiction showdowns, local theaters will be receiving a slew of independent films that have merited recognition at local film festivals. Soon to be released at Sunrise Cinemas at the Deerfield Mall and Mizner Plaza will be "David & Layla," a romantic comedy that involves three things one should avoid talking about in public; politics, religion and sex. While "David & Layla" does not seem to have the maturity to deal with the politics and sex issues, "David & Layla" does succeed in connecting the cultural differences between the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Based on a true romance, David Fine (David Moscow) is a man on the street video reporter. While covering the “sex & relationships” beat on a New York Street corner, Davids meets the Princess Jasmin of his life, Layla (Shiva Rose). Despite living with Abby (Calle Thorne), David can not stop fantasizing about the demure Layla. Layla's striking looks and posture comes from her experiences as an exotic dancer. It is not that she is a stripper, Layla is the fully veiled opening act for star attraction, a belly dancer.
Layla is an immigrant from Kurdistan whose visa is about to expire. Risking deportment, Layla's lawyer suggests that she get married. Through serendipity, Layla and David meet. Despite their cultural differences, David & Layla discover mutual enemies (Saddam Hussein) and a love of the family unit.
David & Layla's introduction to the families are the most dramatic parts of the movie. The first meetings begin with forced smiles and descend into culturally shocking statements. Fortunately, the romance takes place in the United State of America and not in Mount Ararat, Baghdad or Jerusalem. In fact, the romance of "David and Layla" brings to mind President Ronald Reagan's line,
“In America, our destinations matter more than our origins.”
It is a pity that "David & Layla" suffers from the social myopia of the New York based independent film culture. There are political digs against the Bush Administration while Bill Clinton's peccadilloes are hailed as policies to create peaceful foreign relations. While there is no nudity, the sexual scenes, especially involving David's father, have all the maturity of a seventh grade boy. Supposedly for light slapstick comical relief, the scenes take on an unintentionally creepy overtone, it is like catching one's grandparents making out in the nursing home cafeteria.
Despite these flaws, director Jay Jonroy deserves credit for focusing humor and not dwelling on a tragic past. Jonroy is a Kurdish refugee who lost family members to Saddam Hussein's genocide. The remains of Jonroy's brother were found in Abu Ghraib prison during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003. While his remaining family are scattered throughout Europe, Jonroy found new life in New York's Jewish community. Thus the cultural clash between Jewish and Muslim cultures are humorous and genuine.
The glowing highlight of "David & Layla" is Shiva Rose. Shiva Rose's Layla is the most completely written character. Physically, she is a beautiful woman, but there is a spiritual connection between Shiva, the camera and the audience. Her exotic dancing is beautiful to behold. She is a tough chick at times, but her sweetness always prevails. Shiva Rose's performance is the glue that holds "David & Layla" together. In fact, last year's Fort Lauderdale Film Festival honored Shiva Rose with President and Jury Awards for best breakthrough performance. Having garnered Spirit of Independent Award from the same Festival "David & Layla" is a definite contrast to the mechanical blockbusters currently on the big screen.