Review: Arranged (2007)

The Thinker by Rodin

Arranged may be a chick flick. It’s hard for me to say for sure because, alas, I am not a chick. Its story is quite simple: two new female teachers in New York City are assigned right out of college to teach in the same public school and they become friends. This hardly sounds like much of a plot for a movie. However, one happens to be an orthodox Muslim and the other an orthodox Jew. Moreover, they must work with each other. Oh, the horrors!

In the hands of a different director, this could be turned into a slapstick comedy, but instead this story is told in a straightforward manner. Nashira (Francis Benhamou) is so orthodox a Muslim that she wears a hijab in public. She has to handle a class of elementary students full of such diversity that the teachers refer to the school as a little U.N. She is quickly forced to interact with Rochel (Zoe Lister Jones), an orthodox Jew. Rochel is a special education teacher and her student participates in some of Nashira’s classes. Both approach each other warily, but a student quickly presses the obvious issue. Don’t Arabs hate Jews and visa versa? Both women have hardly spoken a dozen words to each other and suddenly in front of the class they have to confront their ethnic and religious divide.

Nashira only takes her hijab off at home. Home includes Mom and Dad, who are obsessed with matching her up with a proper Muslim man in an arranged marriage. Rochel doesn’t have to wear a veil, but also has to deal with her own set of orthodox Jewish parents, also obsessed with her getting married, but even more so that Nashira’s parents. Both Nashira and Rochel quickly discover that because they are being pushed into arranged marriages and come from orthodox households that they have plenty in common. Rochel rebels being matched. Nashira is intrigued. Both risk being ostracized if they do not agree to an arranged marriage.

While they wrestle through their first year of teaching, they also have to figure out how to work with each other and handle the large number of arranged suitors coming to their doors. This quickly give both two women something in common. Almost unwillingly, they find they like each other. The same cannot be said of their parents. Rochel’s mother is aghast when she brings Nashira home to work on a joint assignment. Nashira’s parents are equally wary of her new friendship with Rochel.

Rochel quickly begins to resent her yenta and finds herself yearning for the freedom of her older cousin, who had the audacity to break away and live a life free of her Jewish trappings. However, some exposure to her cousin’s life soon makes her realize she is uncomfortable with her level of freedom. Yet none of her arranged suitors suit her in the least; in fact each one seems worse than the last one. Nashira’s experience is much better. Her parents soon introduce her to a man who takes her fancy and she begins making her wedding plans.

It is a story that is perhaps a bit too contrived and predictable, but both actresses are unusually convincing in what would otherwise be stereotypical roles. Moreover, it is nice to see an orthodox Muslim woman and an orthodox Jewish woman break free of their ethnic stereotypes, if only on screen. They discover that their common humanity is a stronger force than their obsessive orthodox upbringings. Yet, both take some comfort in the traditions as well.

In short, Arranged is a simple film destined to tell a simple story that is a bit uncomfortable at times, a tad melodramatic and sometimes lightly funny. By design it never quite soars. It would be unfair to call it a B movie because it is hardly mediocre. Rather it is a heartfelt and well-acted story of an unlikely but enduring friendship.

Does that make it a chick flick? Maybe. Lacking guns, violence, nudity or swear words it may appear to be inoffensive, but to the many of us who grow up in orthodox families can relate easily enough. So it is definitely more than a B movie, but has few of the qualities of an A movie either. I give it a B+ for sure, or a 3.1 on my four point scale. If you have the opportunity to see it, you should but it is not special enough to seek out. While not as much fun as movies that revel in ethnicity like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, many of us will still find the movie touching.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

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