Marijuana is used as a vehicle for many to connect. Whether ingested to liberate the mind, relieve ailments or merely relax, it’s becoming more socially and culturally acceptable as states in the U.S. legalize its use recreationally and medicinally.
Of course, its use in comedy has never waned, either. This year’s Cucalorus welcomes the British dramedy “Dough” to its lineup on Fri., Nov. 13 at 1 p.m., and Sun., Nov. 15., at 10:15 a.m., at Thalian Hall. It uses marijuana as a vehicle to tell a story of an unlikely friendship, an all-kosher bakery and the extraordinary high that soon follows.
Set in England’s East End, “Dough” begins with Nat Dayan played by Jonathan Pryce (“Game of Thrones,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”), an elderly Jewish Orthodox man who, since his wife died, seems warm toward only two things in this world: his bakery, passed to him from his father, and his young granddaughter. But Dayan is also suffering from the loss of customers, a lack of employees, and the threat from Sam Cotton—the competitor next door—to take over his property.
Ayyash, played by newcomer Jerome Holder, a young Muslim refugee from Darfur, finds himself in a different situation with a conflict of a strangely similar fate. He lives with his mother, in a small apartment with a caving roof. Pressured to support his family, he becomes a local drug dealer. His higher-up demands him find a cover job to explain for all of the extra income. So, Ayyash begins to work for Nat at Dayan & Son’s Bakery.
One night, while trying to juggle dealing and baking, Ayyash’s cannabis becomes a special ingredient in the dough. The flattened Dayan & Son’s suddenly begins to rise and expand once the locals discover they now make one hell of a challah.
“Dough” took over three years and nearly 13 different drafts to become what it is now: a full-length independent film. Award-winning director John Goldschmidt (“Just One Kid,” “Spend Spend Spend”), a veteran in the British film industry, wanted to find a project that was culturally relevant and could be received by an audience universally.
A graduate from the Czech National Film School and The Royal College of Arts, his first project, “World In Action,” was a current affairs documentary drawing similarities to the investigative journalism as seen on America’s “60 Minutes.” Goldschmidt always immersed himself into controversial films, drama documentaries, TV movies, and true stories. When he decided to take on commercial fiction, he still wanted it to have the same edge of his other works.
“I wanted to do a piece that had something to say, but could also entertain,” he explains. “In films dealing with cannabis, you are promised that people will have a good time. My major focus is to have a film that is entirely accessible.”
Late writer Jez Freedman—winner of the International Emmy Sir Peter Ustinov Award for best unproduced script in “The Storyteller”—won over Goldschmidt with “Dough.” Freedman built gentle, kind, humorous, and likable characters. The story remains relatable, no matter who watches. It takes the social concept of marijuana and stretches it across Jewish traditions and Muslim tendencies.
“I found that this film would appeal to the United States because it’s a topical conversation, being that cannabis is legal in some states and illegal in others,” Goldschmidt says. “In the UK, it’s a topic that the police are starting to take less seriously, too.”
But it’s not just the marijuana that holds “Dough” together. The parallel between the two religions is a unique and engaging aspect in the film. “I am not a religious person,” Goldschmidt confirms. “But ‘Dough’ still seems to be about faith just as much as it’s about the heart of two totally different characters who overcome adversity together.”
At its core, the movie works because of the heart of its characters. It deals with two surprising heroes involved with one uncommon and particularly illegal factor. Both actors play their respective roles perfectly. Pryce becomes Nat, with a contemporary Jewish appearance that showcases an aggressive, underlying anger and fear through his deep, raspy voice.
Holder meets his counterpart’s performance with a gorgeous depiction of Ayyash, a young man the audience can empathize with. He’s a dealer that doesn’t delve into his own stash, showcases a depth of emotion through his wide, innocent eyes that manage to pierce the soul.
“While Pryce is the major actor in the industry, Jerome Holder suddenly became the star of the show,” Goldschmidt recalls. In a film festival in Vienna, Holder was recognized on the street and stopped for autographs. “They absolutely loved him,” the director continues.
The film has been doing extraordinary at screen-testings, which Goldschmidt decided to put a unique spin on as well. He brought in a variation of people: men and women, an audience of all ages, to examine how it could be perceived in a universal way. “I’ve been thrilled to see that the response is so positive,” he says.
“Dough” is a quiet film, with gentle Jewish humor easily noted in a Woody Allen or Cohen Brothers flick. Its two main characters parallel as well: externally with age and color and internally with race and beliefs. “I’d say that it’s a buddy movie,” Goldschmidt explains, “involving the most unlikely buddies, overcoming the utmost adversity.”