Reading the synopsis of Dough – Jewish baker fights against big business by hiring a foreigner who accidentally bakes marijuana into the bread they sell – didn’t prepare me for how much further it goes than being just a comedy. If you’re expecting laugh-a-minute hijinks and farce, you’ll be disappointed; but if you expect a story about what two men from disparate backgrounds are willing to do in order to stay afloat, you’ll be quite content with Dough. And a little enchanted, if I might add.
Dough isn’t your typical save-the-business kind of movie. You know the type: small, overlooked store beats insurmountable odds to defy the encroaching megastore by using some kind of inherent moxie. (Does “Damn the Man, save the Empire” ring any bells?) True, it has some of those characteristics, but what we wind up watching is a slow-burning adoption and adaptation of cultures amidst a clash of traditions and ideals.
The first of the film’s great choices starts with lead actor Jonathan Pryce. From his roles in Something Wicked This Way Comes to Ronin and onward, Pryce has always seemed a weary sort, someone with enough intelligence to know how the world works and has seen the best and worst of things. He puts that vibe to good use here as the aforementioned Jewish baker, Nat Dayan, whose father and grandfather owned and ran the bakery he now oversees. Life’s put him on his heels a bit: his wife has passed on, his assistants never stay too long, and his landlord Joanna (Pauline Collins) wants to see a whole lot more of him socially.
Breathing down both Nat and Joanna’s necks is grocery store mogul Sam Cotton (Philip Davis); he wants Nat to sell him his bakery and is pressuring Joanna to sell him the land upon which Nat’s bakery and Cotton’s grocery lie next door to each other. There has been a recent dropoff of Nat’s patrons due to the Jewish community moving further out from London – even the local synagogue is suffering a lack of worshipers – and the time couldn’t be better for Cotton to move in to assimilate the Dayan name and goods into his store’s wares.
However, Nat’s business soon kicks into – ahem – high gear with the arrival of Ayyash Habimana (Jerome Holder), a refugee from Darfur whom Nat has hired as an apprentice. Unbeknownst to Nat, Ayyash moonlights as a marijuana dealer for a local kingpin; one morning, thinking some visiting policemen are there for him (instead of the breakfast pastries they were buying), Ayyash dumps his stash into the bread dough he’s currently mixing, only to have Nat bake it and sell it. And as you can guess… hilarity ensues as the money starts rolling in.
Watching Nat’s life change due to this sudden windfall opens up the friendship between himself and Ayyash, as each observes religious and business customs, and it’s a lovely process to witness. Walls gently come down as they slowly grow to accept one another, and these are the moments where Dough sparkles. Dough has been advertised as a comedy, but it’s more a drama with comedic elements. There’s an inescapable sweetness shining through the hardened exteriors of both Nat and Ayyash, and the film takes great care to celebrate this. It’s a variation on a theme we’ve all seen before, and it may be a bit by-the-numbers, but there’s nothing wrong with watching hearts opening and respect forming between two disparate people.