Dough is not a stoner comedy. It tries to balance comedy and drama, but comes out better on one side than the other. Its dramatic sensibility leads to some compelling moments of family drama, but comedy fans might be left wanting more than just a story with a good heart.
Dough’s story starts off as the classic kid-in-city trying to make his way, and aging Jewish small business owner Nat Dayan (Jonathon Pryce) trying to make his. After an incident at a nightclub, the kid Ayyash (Jerome Holder) is urged to try and get a job and stay out of trouble with the police, but he is also helping an older acquaintance hide his marijuana. Ayyash’s mother, a devout Muslim woman, disapproves of his behavior and his choice in friends. She urged him to work for the baker; he scoffs at the notion of working for a Jewish man, saying, “I heard they bake with blood.”
Ayyash’s mother is not playing around. She sets extra alarms for him to ensure that he goes to work on time. The two of them are refugees from Darfur, working on assimilating into British society while combating racism and religious prejudice. Her nagging is necessary because her son is essentially hitting a crossroads in his life—either he gets his life together, or he could fall in with the wrong crowd, or even end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. This type of “either/or” binary in movies often results in tragedy, but Ayyash doesn’t find himself trapped. On the contrary, he tries to live both lives—one as the baker’s assistant, and another as an illegal drug dealer. He’s a novice at both, and it shows as he constantly fumbles between the two jobs. He is a realistic young adult in a film world full of unrealistic teens played by adult actors.
At first the shopkeeper thinks he’s just a gifted baker; the shops earnings have dramatically increased now that he works there. He doesn’t know that the secret ingredient is actually marijuana. There is a scene with brownies and another scene with an entire family on edibles. It’s great.
The film deals immediately with racial and religious difference and prejudice. When Nat discovers Ayyash praying in the shop, immediately after he finishes his own prayers, Nat commands him to do it somewhere that others can’t see. It’s simultaneously a reflection on his own prejudices against people of color, Muslims, and even his personal fears about discrimination. In many ways, Dough is a drama, but its premise suggests a much lighter film than it really is; the tonal shifts are is evident throughout the film. Even the funnier scenes have a visual darkness, with heavy browns and even black, unlike bright American comedies we are used to seeing. However, the film’s warmth complements the domestic warmth of the baked goods sold in the shop and Ayyash’s relationship with his mother in their home.
There are threats to both characters individually, and they’re realistic. The worries of the shop and the assistant intertwine as their sudden success tangles with their outside lives. The final third gets a little bit silly: for a movie that began with a less is more strategy, the turn to comedy in the face of real danger doesn’t serve as well as it hopes to, but allows for some unexpected action, too. Luckily, its brief shift is short and doesn’t change the message of the film.
By illustrating the struggles of two very different on the surface families, the shared struggles become more apparent. In a world so divided, it’s always nice to be able to sit back, relax, and have a good snack. Dough appreciates this, and slows down the comedy to tell an actual story.