David & Layla

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NewRoz Films

First-time writer-director-producer Jay Jonroy, an emigre from Kurdistan, has a strong personal connection to his material in "David & Layla." Not everyone in his family escaped Iraq's killing fields; he pays tribute to the region's murdered souls through a why-can't-we-all-get-along romantic comedy set in New York. At the heart of the tale is a real-life Jewish-Muslim love story that Jonroy heard from an acquaintance, and though he's clearly inspired by it, he doesn't know how to distill his themes into a compelling narrative. Broad strokes far outweigh the moments of insight and delight.

The script makes rather clumsy work of their romance's fitful progress, but leads David Moscow and Shiva Rose are engaging. He plays the host of a cable access show titled "Sex and Happiness," and she's the stunning, chaste Kurdish beauty who keeps walking through his on-the-street shoots. When he gets up the nerve to pose one of his impertinent questions to her, she responds with a stinging slap across the face. The pursuit is on, despite -- or because of -- David's surgically enhanced, shrill-to-the-point-of-insane girlfriend (Callie Thorne). His opinionated French cameraman (a very good Alexander Blaise) offers encouragement -- and Ecstasy.

Layla has 30 days to marry a citizen before immigration officials deport her. Her aunt and uncle (Anna George, Ed Chemaly) have a dull doctor in mind, but they're willing to entertain the possibility of David as a suitor. Then they learn that he's Jewish. His over-the-top parents (Polly Adams, Peter Van Wagner), meanwhile, assume that Layla is a Sephardic Jew, a big enough leap for his surprisingly provincial Realtor mother.

With the help of obvious but lovely music cues, Jonroy sets the scene of the Hasidic and Muslim neighborhoods in Brooklyn where the story unfolds. He's better with atmosphere and visuals than with dialogue, which tends toward the expository. When the characters aren't spouting Middle Eastern history, Jonroy inserts documentary footage on TV screens. There's no question that this recent history matters; Layla's immediate family was gassed by Saddam Hussein's regime. But all the on-the-nose lessons, the quotes from the Torah and the Koran, the philosophizing and kvetching will wear down most viewers in this overlong film.
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