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Non-Review Review: Halal Daddy

Halal Daddy is a pleasant enough culture clash comedy, perhaps most notable for how conventional it is.

The premise of Halal Daddy is immediately striking, based on a true story about the halal meat factory in Sligo. It is a compelling set up, one with a lot of potential to explore the collision of differing perspectives and outlooks against the backdrop of the West of Ireland. Certainly, director Conor McDermottroe does an excellent job capturing a sense of place and texture in this Sligo-set comedy.

Meat cute.

However, what is most surprising about Halal Daddy is how conventional it feels. In many ways, it plays like the extended pilot for a BBC sitcom. Indeed, there is a sense that Halal Daddy might easily have been broken down into a series of six relatively interconnected episodes built around a variety of miscommunications and errors in judgment featuring the core cast. At certain point, Halal Daddy feels like a compressed set of stories, with each new set of complications summarised as “the one where…”

This is not a huge problem. Halal Daddy has a lot of charm. Some of that charm comes from a winning central performance from Nikesh Patel, while some of it comes from the casual ease with which it navigates from sitcom beat to sitcom beat without ever letting any of these potential problems overwhelm its characters or the audience. Halal Daddy is an enjoyable feel-good comedy, one that only occasionally feels a little light of touch.

There’ll be halal to pay.

Miscommunication is a cornerstone of sitcom humour in general, but it seems to particularly resonate within the British Isles. There is something innately charming in the idea that a casual misconception can push a person to absurd lengths, that people’s inability to communicate with one another could lead to increasingly ridiculous outcomes. If people were only willing to talk, or even to ask questions rather than making assumptions, the world would be a better place. This is a stock source of amusement, one almost mocking the human condition.

Halal Daddy is packed full of familiar situation comedy beats. Early in the movie, a relationship breaks down because of a misconception about a supporting character’s sexual orientation, leading to anger and recrimination that could easily have been resolved by two characters simply talking it out. Later on, a staunchly conservative imam arrives at a celebration just as belly dancers take to the stage to the beats of Boney M’s Rivers of Babylon, leading to a mad rush to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

I’m an Imam.

There is a certain goofy charm to all of this, a sense that the world is a crazy place because people are not very good at expressing themselves to one another. Naturally, this tendency is exaggerated in culture clash comedy, where seemingly innocuous differences are played up for laughs. As Raghdan and Amir Aziz set up their halal slaughterhouse in Sligo, they find themselves dealing with Martin Logan. Martin is generally well-intentioned, but bumbling. He plans to learn Arab to ingratiate himself to his Indian boss; he jokes he doesn’t like Indian food because of the chopsticks.

It is generally endearing and well-intentioned, but there are moments that feel rather tone-deaf. For example, one major supporting character switches very quickly from being well-intentioned but ill-informed to aggressively racist as soon as his job is threatened by the Aziz family. This is an interesting twist, if only because it hints at the economic realities that tend to enable (and fuel) racial anxieties. However, the film glosses over the implications of that pretty severe twist. The character’s slip into Enoch Powell racism is brushed aside as soon as the plot moves on.

Hate to pint it out…

Less dramatically, Halal Daddy struggles a little bit with the character of Raghdan. The movie’s central character should be relatively sympathetic, on paper. He is a young man who ran away from the responsibilities imposed on him by his father, who just wants to make a life for himself. He just has no idea what that life would look like. However, the problem is that Raghdan quickly finds himself at the centre of so many misunderstandings. He lacks any sense of foresight, or a willingness to press an issue.

However, nobody ever calls Raghdan out on his communication problem. As soon as a situation is explained, as soon as his misconception is exposed, the characters around Raghdan immediately forgive him. However, nobody seems particularly bothered at Raghdan’s tendency to allow these situations to escalate. Nobody ever takes Raghdan to task by pointing out that there are reasons why he finds himself at the centre of so many miscommunications.

Daddy cool.

To be fair, Nikesh Patel does good work in the role. He pretty much holds the film together by sheer force of charisma. Raghdan is a character who seems very passive up until the point at which the film really needs him to act, which is in some ways an infuriating attribute. However, Patel pitches his performance at just the right level. He understands that Raghdan has stumbled into a comedy of miscommunication and that he is effectively being bounced around between plot developments like a ping-pong ball.

There is a lightness of touch to Halal Daddy that is engaging and compelling. It is a movie that feels quite relaxed about itself. It is a movie that understands the expectations of the genre in which it finds itself. Even in its darker moments, Halal Daddy seems to understand that things will get better. Halal Daddy never really pushes its stakes, never tries to wring any more drama from its set-up than is strictly necessary.

There’s definitely an Art to it.

The result is a movie that is enjoyable and fluffy, that plays broadly and with an infectious sense of charm. Halal Daddy  could do with a little more meat, but its still quite tasty on its own terms.

2 Responses

  1. While having to set up a halal meat factory in Ireland and learn to speak Arabic are both challenging tasks, they nevertheless have got to be a cakewalk compared to the stuff Colm Meaney had to go through in your typical “O’Brien must suffer” episode of DS9 🙂

    Seriously, it’s always nice to see Meaney in, well, almost anything. He’s a good actor, so I’m glad that he’s had a really long, prolific career.

    • Yeah. He’s been a fixture of Irish cinema for decades, which is what I really respect about him. He went to Hollywood, but he never forgot his roots. I think he even took time off from DS9 to make The Snapper.

      (It’s interesting that Rick Berman was so willing to let him do that, particularly given the arguments Berman had with actors like Wheaton and Wang. I suspect the fact that Meaney was making these movies in Ireland for the Irish market was probably what let him get away with it. It was unlikely to make him more expensive in the long run.)

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