Lawrence Toppman

‘Dough’ rises to a familiar comic occasion

I cannot think of a single sentence, plot development or performance in “Dough” that made me do a double-take, and I usually count predictability as one of the Seven Cardinal Sins of filmmaking.

So I’m surprised how much I enjoyed a movie in which an irascible, tradition-bound old Jew learns to enjoy life after hiring a mischievous young Muslim as a bakery assistant.

Even that set-up sounds familiar, right? The younger generation has no use for the London shop that has been in the Dayan family for almost a century. Nat (Jonathan Pryce), who looks about 70, struggles to stay afloat financially; his landlady (Pauline Collins) doesn’t want to sell – she might give Nat a break, if he paid attention to her romantic needs – but a rich developer wants to build a parking lot.

Enter Ayyash (Jerome Holder), a Syrian refugee with a mom holding down two jobs. He can’t find work himself, except with a marijuana dealer (Ian Hart) who makes him find a “cover job” to explain his new income. Ayyash becomes Nat’s apprentice, hoping to earn enough at both occupations to get him and his mom out of a rundown housing project.

Thus the formula unspools: Slow-growing friendship between the old man and the young, Ayyash’s realization that he likes baking and has a talent for it, sales that skyrocket after he accidentally puts marijuana in a batch of challah. Betrayal, comeuppance, reconciliation and renewal go round and round, with the precision of figures on a clock in a medieval town square.

Yet I warmed to the performances of Pryce and especially Holder, as they grudgingly abandoned old preconceptions. This is the first film for director John Goldschmidt in 28 years (speaking of British Jews in their 70s), but he still has a sense of timing. Nor do he and writers Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman make the characters any wiser or cuddlier than they might be in life.

And who among us can’t warm to the idea that prejudice can be eroded by patience, long acquaintanceship and, perhaps, a little pot? As conditions become uglier and more divisive in the real world, the notion that they could go the other way becomes ever more appealing in a fictional setting.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Dough’

Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Jerome Holder, Pauline Collins, Ian Hart.

Director: John Goldschmidt.

Length: 94 minutes.

Rating: Unrated (occasional language, comic drug use).

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