'Halal Daddy': Film Review | Edinburgh 2017

Courtesy of Edinburgh International Film Festival
Not quite kosher.

Nikesh Patel, Sarah Bolger and Colm Meaney star in Conor McDermottroe's Irish-German comedy, premiering at the venerable Scottish event.

A semi-digestible collation of stew and sauerkraut, Irish-German comedy Halal Daddy never quite cuts close enough to the funny bone. Very loosely based on a true story, this genially larkish but undercooked tale of a Muslim-run slaughterhouse on the Emerald Isle's stunning Atlantic coast premiered to mixed reactions at Edinburgh days before a tepid opening in Ireland. Suitable mainly for TV and downloads, despite its widescreen lensing, this is a well-meaning slice of Europudding that fritters away the talents of several appealing players.

Best known for British TV drama Indian Summers, 31-year-old Nikesh Patel convincingly plays a decade below his actual age as Bradford-born Raghdan. Keen to get away from his overbearing dad Amir (Art Malik), Raghdan has relocated to sleepy surf town Sligo, where he lives with his uncle (Paul Tylak) and aunt (Deirdre O'Kane). An observant but far from strict Muslim, Raghdan usually hangs out with his stoner pals Derek (Stephen Cromwell) and Neville (Paul Iwu) while nursing romantic affections for Maeve (Sarah Bolger).

Economic times are hard in this scenic spot, where one of the main employers — a meat plant where Maeve's gruff dad Martin (Colm Meaney) is the manager — has just shut it doors. When Amir turns up on an unexpected visit, he spots a prime business opportunity and relaunches the enterprise along "halal" lines, with the beasts ritually slaughtered in accordance with Sharia law. Vegetarians and animal lovers, incidentally, have nothing to fear from the fleeting abattoir scenes: Blood-letting is kept discreetly offscreen, in a soft-pedaling picture which makes Okja look like Le sang des betes.

There is ripe potential here for a topical, even incendiary tale in the Four Lions mold, but director Conor McDermottroe and co-writer Mark O'Halloran opt instead for a sunnily whimsical tone that passes muster until around the halfway mark. At this point it becomes clear that they have little idea what to do with their premise; the halal stuff is rapidly and strangely sidelined as Raghdan and company develop the factory into a co-operative of small businesses. Mild belly laughs continue to intermittently be milked along the way, but the pleasures afforded here are largely incidental.

Patel and Bolger make for a winning and attractive couple; Meaney blusters nicely on something akin to autopilot; and Iwu shows genuine charisma in his flashy supporting role of a black Irish dude and should now figure on casting directors' radars. Ditto Tylak as the happy-go-lucky uncle, who displays proper comic timing and flair in his all-too-brief appearances. David Kross (The Reader), meanwhile, has even less to do as nice-guy German immigrant Jasper, the actor's presence the most obvious onscreen hint regarding the production's multinational budget. 

Partly funded by Council of Europe organization Eurimages, Halal Daddy presents a welcome, unfussily positive image of a modern Ireland buoyed by an easygoing tolerance and multiculturalism. A sweet antidote to the bitterness of Brexit and associated manifestations of xenophobia that have emerged since the "crisis" hit the continent in 2008, the picture is hard to fault in terms of intentions. But the ingredients, as assembled, never cohere into a satisfying recipe: We're left with under-spiced, under-cooked fare, unlikely to tickle many palates.

Production companies: Benrae Florin Films, Deadpan Pictures, Eurimages, Florin Film-und Fernsehproduktion
Cast: Nikesh Patel, Sarah Bolger, Colm Meaney, Art Malik, David Kross, Jerry Iwu, Paul Tylak, Deirdre O'Kane, Stephen Cromwell,
Director: Conor McDermottroe
Screenwriters: Conor McDermottroe, Mark O'Halloran
Producers: Hermann Florin, Ailish McElmeel
Cinematographer: Mel Griffith
Production designer: Conor Dennison
Costume designer: Kerry Gooding
Editors: Alexander Dittner, Constantin von Seld
Composer: Mathias Weber
Casting director: Louise Kiely
Venue: Edinburgh Film Festival (European Perspectives)
Sales: Global Screen, Munich (info@globalscreen.de)

95 minutes

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