This week in my movie class, we saw the final film of the summer semester, “May In The Summer”, a comedy-drama with Bill Pullman and Alia Shawkat.
When a young woman visits her family prior to her upcoming wedding, long unresolved conflicts arise – but will this cause her to re-consider getting married?
With her wedding only a few weeks away, May (Cherien Dabis), a successful Palestinian writer now living in New York City, returns to her hometown of Amman, Jordan to have a family reunion before marrying Ziad, a fellow Palestinian and college professor at Columbia University. Upon arrival, she is confronted with outstanding family issues that include her sisters Yasmine and Dalia (Shawkat), her mother Nadine and her estranged father Edward (Pullman). Add to all of this the fact that tensions rise due to the fact that she is unaccompanied by her fiancé and everyone’s nerves are on edge.
Nadine is a Palestinian woman who converted to Christianity; devoutly religious, she is against May’s impending marriage because although Ziad is also Arabic, he is Muslim. When Nadine threatens to boycott the wedding, May reassures her that Ziad is secular and doesn’t practice his family’s religion. With Edward, there remain some hurt feelings over the fact that he not only left Nadine, but also subsequently married a young Indian woman around May’s age. As far as her sisters are concerned, Yasmine is the more irresponsible of the two and Dalia may be hiding a big secret about her personal life.
Ultimately, the pressure starts getting to May; the longer Ziad remains in New York City, the more May questions whether she should marry him. Soon, she starts flirting with random men she meets, eventually developing what might be romantic feelings for Karim, a local tour guide whom she meets at a nightclub. When May is led to believe that Nadine might be trying to break up the engagement, May resentfully starts prying into Nadine’s life until she discovers shocking personal information that shakes her belief in marriage. But will this be enough for May to call off her wedding to Ziad?
Given the current state of things in the history of the world at the time of this writing, this may be the worst possible time to release a film about a Palestinian family, even though it is apolitical in its nature. To say that Cherien Dabis, the writer-director-star of “May In The Summer”, has an uphill battle on her hands is a major understatement. That’s too bad because this film is quite good. Entertaining, funny and surprising, it could almost be described as humanist since it doesn’t really advance any particular religious or political philosophy – it’s instead about matters to which almost anyone with a family could easily relate. It just so happens to be about an Arab family.
“May In The Summer” is a brilliant, wonderful movie deserving exposure to as wide an audience as possible – and even if the issues in Gaza weren’t happening at this specific point, it would still struggle to find acceptance, especially here in The United States. A real shame, given the quality of the ensemble acting and how well-written its screenplay. I highly recommend this film; it may be a little work to find either in a theater or online, but if you do locate it, do be sure to see it – you’ll be very glad you did.
Prior to the screening, our instructor interviewed Cherien Dabis. A personable, articulate young woman, she was raised in the United States after her parents moved here from The Middle East; each year, they would travel to The West Bank in order to visit family. Dabis hated the travel then, but has since learned to embrace it since she feels it provides a bridge between two very different worlds. Interestingly, Dabis said the the two films that most influenced her are “The Wizard Of Oz” and “E.T.” – both of which are stories about individuals who find themselves in an unusual land where they don’t belong.