Abu Laila (Mohamed Bakri) is a former judge in Rammallah, Palestine, who begins each day battling the thorny bureaucracy that stands between him and a return to his judiciary responsibilities—then, after a fruitless conversation with an unhelpful bureaucrat, he takes to the streets in the borrowed taxi that is his new livelihood. Abu Laila's belief in the letter of the law is at odds with the anarchic nature of life in his city: He forbids firearms in his cab, refuses to take passengers to security checkpoints, and insists his passengers wear their seatbelts. Over the course of the day on which Laila's Birthday takes place, he confronts all these situations and more, all while trying to make it home in time for his daughter's birthday.
Despite a seething performance from Bakri, Laila's Birthday's salient plot points are contrived and clumsy. Worse, the streets that Laila drives his taxi through are largely empty (as though extras weren't in the budget), and the portrait of Rammallah that emerges seems staged and unconvincing.