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May in the Summer's Middle East Convention

MAY IN THE SUMMER A film set in the Middle East! Or Connecticut. Or Paris.

MAY IN THE SUMMER A film set in the Middle East! Or Connecticut. Or Paris.

CONSIDERING the bad news from the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian crisis, May in the Summer's timing is great. Set in Amman, Jordan, it concerns May (writer/director Cherien Dabis), a New Yorker and Palestinian whose American diplomat father (Bill Pullman) afforded her a life bouncing between the two countries. Beautiful and casually sophisticated, May arrives in Amman to prepare for her marriage to Ziad (a mostly off-camera Alexander Siddig), a professor at Columbia and expert on Palestinian economics.

The opportunity to normalize this part of the world isn't lost on Dabis, and her film works best when defying expectation: May's mother is fervently religious, but she's a born-again Christian who objects to May's wedding because her fiancé was raised Muslim. Unfortunately, the cultural intrigue is ultimately relegated to the background. May and her thoroughly Americanized sisters (Nadine Malouf, Alia Shawkat) carouse around Amman's nightclubs and float on the Dead Sea, but any cultural tensions are just superficial reference—the one scene in which the situation in Palestine is directly contemplated, it's simply described as "weird."

It's possible Dabis simply overplayed her intention to portray an un-sensationalized Middle East, as the film's focus is unmistakably on her character's conventional wedding-jitter drama. But outside of some easily replaceable flourishes, it's a story that could be airlifted into Connecticut or Paris—which is to say it's nothing special. Given its blandness, it's hard to believe the extent of this portability was the point. It seems more likely the intrigue of Dabis' cultural duality has offhandedly salvaged a film that would otherwise be relegated to self-indulgent mediocrity.

May in the Summer
Rated R · 97 minutes · 2014
Director: Cherien Dabis
Producer: Cherien Dabis, Beau Genot, Alix Madigan and Joy Goodwin
Cast: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Elie Mitri, Ritu Pande, Alexander Siddig, Nadine Malouf and Nasri Sayegh

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