Finding Fatimah movie review: dating while Muslim

Finding Fatimah yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

There’s lots to like in this mostly sweet British Muslim rom-com. Pity, then, that it tries too hard, instead of trusting its characters, and sabotages itself.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Oh my goodness, it’s a romantic comedy about a guy who’s about to hit 30 and is desperate to get married. This is because he’s Muslim and hence coping with cultural and religious pressure to pair up, which sucks, but if women have to deal with this, it’s nice to see that turned upside down for once. (No one should have to deal with this, though.) But he’s not having much luck on the Internet dating scene in Manchester (the English one, not the New Hampshire one) because he’s divorced, which comes with an enormous stigma in the Muslim community. So, he decides that he will simply not reveal that little tidbit to his new would-be romantic acquaintances. What could go wrong?

If you predict that Finding Fatimah will go right down a familiar alley, you would be correct in that: Shahid (Danny Ashok) will fail to inform Fatimah (Asmara Gabrielle) — who is really awesome and whom he really likes right away, and she him — that he has been married before. And rom-com shenanigans will ensue as it gets more and more difficult for him to tell the truth as they get closer and closer. Still, the premise is not quite as bad as it sounds. Fatimah is holding something back too…

If rom-coms cannot get away from clichés, expanding to whom the clichés apply is a good thing, I suppose.

There’s a lot to like in this sweet first film from newbie writer-director Oz Arshad. For one big thing, Arshad makes his ridiculously low-budget film look far more expensive: I would never have guessed that Finding Fatimah was made for under half a million pounds. That’s just nuts. It’s sort of nice, I guess, to see the tropes of rom-coms applied to modern, sophisticated, urban Muslims who are pretty conservative: these characters cannot even hug, much less kiss or go to bed together, not even during the stereotypical bad-first-date and later the falling-in-love montage. (I’d love for movies to get away from the clichés, but if they cannot, expanding to whom the clichés can apply is a good thing, I suppose.) Fatimah has a truly unexpected complicating factor to her personality that doesn’t only bust rom-com expectations but those of Muslim women, too, who often get stereotyped as meek and demure: she has a huge anger problem, and though it is played for laughs, there’s never any question that the things she gets explosively, sometimes violently angry about are legitimately worth her ire. (She just overreacts a tad, maybe.)

Fatimah is cool and funny and gorgeous and a doctor. Hell, I’d date her.
Fatimah is cool and funny and gorgeous and a doctor. Hell, I’d date her.

But all of that gets overshadowed by how the movie simply tries too damn hard. It wants us to buy Shahid as a stand-up comedian — he’s competing in a local talent show called Muslims with Talent — but he’s simply not funny. Literally, not at all; it’s impossible to believe that he wasn’t gonged out in the first round. The movie’s humor often falls into the nyuk-nyuk-nyuk realm: Someone will complain that the reason a woman dissed him is “Maybe she thinks I voted for Brexit,” and the not-at-all-surprising comeback will be “You did vote for Brexit.” Most uncomfortable of all is the race-against-the-clock finale that Arshad tries hopelessly to whip up, eager to force a sense of urgency where none is needed and then weirdly dragging it out.

Shahid and Fatimah are likable enough characters that I wished better for them. Arshad should have trusted that they were enough on their own, and didn’t require overly strained nonsense to make us believe in them and root for them.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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