Friday, February 14, 2020

A Simple Wedding

There is a good chance an Iranian wedding will at some point feature a reading from Hafez, the great Persian love poet. Nousha Husseini would probably prefer his satirical work. She is under tremendous pressure from her mother Ziba to marry, but the bi-sexual DJ-artist she falls for is not exactly the kind of husband her family had in mind. Nevertheless, Ziba is determined to have a big ceremony, even if it kills her daughter in Sara Zandieh’s A Simple Wedding (title irony), which opens today on Long Island.

Husseini works at the sort of public interest law firm where they talk about protesting patriarchy as if that actually meant something. (Try protesting patriarchy in her native Iran and we’ll all be much more impressed.) Regardless, Husseini is rather grateful when Alex Talbot and his band of feminist performance artists show up for her friend’s latest sparsely attended demonstration. There is definitely something sparking between them, even though she is initially a little unsure of Talbot’s sexuality. Needless to say, they quickly become an item, but Husseini tries to forestall his introduction to her parents for as long as possible—with good reason.

When they do finally meet, Talbot finds himself agreeing to marry Husseini, much to their mutual surprise. Yet, they go along with the plan, because they are crazy about each other. As viewers will expect, things start to get awkward when Husseini’s traditional Persian family meets Talbot’s divorced parents, as well as his father’s new husband. At least Husseini’s reassuring Uncle Saman manages to slip through the Iranian travel restrictions in order to attend.

It is hard not to think “Big Fat Persian Wedding,” especially since Rita Wilson plays Talbot’s romantically frustrated mother Maggie Baker (a little shticky, but could have been worse). However, the humor is usually sharper than the obvious comp and sometimes racier. Frankly, Zandieh & Stephanie Wu’s screenplay is surprisingly amusing, even though it is painfully obvious everybody will eventually come together and learn to appreciate each other’s differences.

Tara Grammy plays Husseini as a total mess—and she seems to enjoy being a mess. Christopher O’Shea is charismatic as Talbot (and appropriately ambiguous when he has to be). Of course, the great Shohreh Aghdashloo is wonderfully elegant and commanding as Mother Ziba. Yet, it is instantly recognizable character actor Maz Jobrani who really sets the hopeful tone for the picture with his soulful portrayal of Saman.

Simple Wedding is small and modest, but still pleasant. Sometimes, it is hard to tell whether Zandieh & Wu are satirizing Husseini & company’s ultra-wokeness or playfully endorsing it. Either way, the good humor makes it easier to endure. Jobrani and Aghdashloo definitely also shine in the two most important supporting roles. Recommended as an eventual date-night-at-home streamer, A Simple Wedding opens today, Valentine’s Day, at Great Neck Cinemas at the Square.