“Dough” is a film that could have easily strayed into silly territory. Take one part “Odd Couple,” two parts David vs. Goliath, then sprinkle in some elderly people getting stoned. Stick it in the oven. Ninety minutes later, you might have been left with a hackneyed mess.
Instead, John Goldschmidt’s film is charming, funny and touching – a weed comedy that never treats cannabis as a frivolous plot device.
Jonathan Pryce (to some the High Sparrow in “Game of Thrones,” to others the doomed hero of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”) stars as Nat, an Orthodox Jewish baker and widower still in mourning. Nat inherited Dayan & Son from his father and had hoped the bakery would stay in the family. Instead, his own son is an indifferent, nouveau riche lawyer, and the shop is losing business. His customers prefer the nearby Cotton Express grocery store, owned by the comically devious Sam Cotton (Philip Davis).
Meanwhile, Ayyash (Jerome Holder) is a young refugee from Darfur who needs to make money. His apartment is falling apart, and his mother Safa works two jobs to help support them. One is at Nat’s bakery, and when his trusted assistant quits, Safa recommends her son for the position. Ayyash isn’t thrilled, but sees an opportunity for a front job; now he can sell weed for the neighborhood dealer (Ian Hart) without arousing suspicion.
Not surprisingly, Ayyash and Nat bristle immediately, each having little respect for the other. But when Ayyash starts selling cannabis out of the bakery, business starts to improve. And it really takes off when he accidentally dumps a bag of shake into a vat of dough. Pretty soon, Nat’s shop starts attracting a younger, less Semitic customer base, and his elderly regulars aren’t complaining either. Everything is looking up for both men – until things start to go wrong. As they usually do in films like these.
There are plenty of opportunities for Dough to turn stale, but even with the stoned-old-people montage, this film is never silly, only sweet. More importantly, it’s very fair in its treatment of cannabis. While regular edible producers and users will have to suspend their disbelief – that’s not how you make cannabis dough, and everyone knows it takes at least an hour for most edibles to take effect – it’s still refreshing to see that the added ingredient doesn’t turn the neighborhood Jews into burnouts. It just makes them all very happy. And for one customer, it even eases his physical pain.
Nat and Ayyash, satisfyingly portrayed by both actors, are the classic star-crossed business partners, with a modern, religious twist. Still, they actually have a lot in common. They’re both terribly bigoted. They both value family above all else and only want to do what’s best for them, and they both face villains bent on destroying their lives. Each of them has a lot of life lessons to learn, and do so during the course of “Dough.” And fortunately, they’re characters worth rooting for.