Movie Review: Arranged

Arranged looks like it could be an interesting commentary on inter-faith relationships.  I’m not sure that it achieves this.  Most of the credit for this movie comes from the attempt to positively demonstrate religious faith in the midst of a secularizing culture that doesn’t understand the beliefs themselves, the people who subscribe to them, or the resulting choices they make for their lives. Yet for that ostensibly noble effort, much of the movie seems to focus on the difficulties attendant with a depth of faith that thoroughly pervades a life.

This film is quite watchable. The two main characters are not well-developed but do manage to convey a sense of struggle that is authentic in many self-reflecting people of faith. Their moments of struggle at this critical juncture in their lives should resonate with anyone of faith who has had a moment of doubt or uncertainty about how they are living their lives. 

What the film fails to do (and which would require a lot of effort and backstory) is to credibly posit these two women of faith as fully committed not just to their faiths but to the practices and traditions of those faiths. The formats for arranging marriages are not integral either to Islam or Orthodox Judaism, and unfortunately the film does not well distinguish between the angst and uncertainty about these traditions and what many casual viewers might assume is angst or uncertainty about the faith itself. Being unhappy with the list of possible spouses is not the same as being uncertain about Orthodox Judaism, marriage, or even the process of arranged marriages. The film doesn’t make that distinction very clear.

The message that people of different faiths can be civil and friendly and loving to one another is certainly a welcome reminder and this film tries to do a good job of that. Natural curiosity as well as the recognition of one another not as the same but as very different in similar ways to the predominant culture makes a very plausible basis for camaraderie that builds into friendship. The characters do an excellent job of respecting one another as well as their faiths. They do not sacrifice who they are in order to be with one another, they are able to become friends because they recognize that their differences of belief needn’t necessitate personal enmity.

The one thing that seemed genuinely unbelievable in the story was each woman’s attempt to welcome the other into their family home. In each case the welcome was predictably cool, as the older generation reacted not to the individual in their home, but to everything that individual represented to their faith – erroneously though it may be. It’s also the film’s way of recognizing that the differences that separate faiths and guide the actions of extremists still filter into the lives of people who don’t apparently have any personal reasons for disliking or distrusting one another. But to think that these women wouldn’t have guessed the effects such an invitation might cause – the awkwardness, the discomfort, even the hostility – is naive. Both these women are too savvy for such an obvious error.

The film demonstrates a decidedly pro-Muslim bias, something that wasn’t necessary. In nearly every situation the Muslim tradition or environment is demonstrated as kinder, warmer, more open-minded or at least more civil than the Orthodox Jewish one. I found this curious and unfortunate for a film that wants to build bridges. The film would have been far better served by a more even-handed relating of the two cultures to one another. This type of ‘buddy film’ has few enough antecedents so that deliberately tipping the scales is far more likely to be received polemically than not. If this was a well-established cultural mingling motif, there would probably be greater room for play and greater flexibility. For this film, at this time, a better balance would have been a safer bet. Might that have seemed even more contrived? Quite possibly – but the film is already a case study in stereotypes and a more balanced representation wouldn’t have altered this very much.

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