Written & Directed by Mike Mosallam
To be honest, there are not many LGBQT+ films that I have seen in my exploration of cinema. Part of that is because until recently, that community has not had a voice in film. But most of it is on me for not seeking out these stories more actively. I’ve also not seen a whole lot of cinema about Islam or Muslims. There is perhaps more there as you can look at Middle East cinema to find some there, and while I’ve seen a few from Iranian filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi and Jafar Pahani, that is not necessarily the same thing as proper representation in cinema, particularly when it comes to the Middle Eastern experience in America. Breaking Fast fuses the two together into one of the more unique films I’ve seen: a story about a gay Islamic man living in West Hollywood. Stories like these are great to see, as storytelling in film needs more unique and diverse voices.
Mo (Haaz Sleiman) is spending time with family during the holy month of Ramadan, preparing to break fast when his longtime partner Hasan informs him he will be getting married to appease his father, who is unaccepting of his sexuality. Torn by this and the passing of his grandmother, Mo hesitates to get back into the dating world, becoming more distant and cold to his family and friends. But a year later, he meets Kal (Michael Cassidy) at his friend Sam’s (Amin El Gamal) birthday party. Mo and Kal hit it off and Mo is beginning to open up again, even while breaking fast by himself each night for Ramadan. Soon, Kal is joining him, and Mo will be forced to open up to fully let him in, or risk alienating him.
Breaking Fast is a refreshing take on the romantic comedy genre which brings in a whole host of unique voices and perspectives. Centering the film around a gay Muslim at Ramadan is a brilliant choice to bring about new conversation and exposure for groups who don’t often get their due time on screen. The film’s greatest strengths lie with its earnestness, coming across as tremendously heartfelt and genuine in its depth of feeling. This is clearly a very personal story being told by writer/director Mike Mosallam, who is adapting his earlier short film of the same name from 2015. This passion shows in the final product very clearly.
If there is a weakness to the film it comes from the lead performer, Haaz Sleiman, who plays Mo with a somewhat caricature level enthusiasm. His comedic timing and sense of romantic awe and wonder are continually over played and come across as too performant. However, Sleiman does handle the more gentle, serious moments with charm and grace. He seems out of his element alongside both Amin El Gamal, as his way over the top friend Sam, and Michael Cassidy, the more grounded and serious Kal. Sleiman falls somewhere in between the two, failing to reach the cartoonish output of Gamal, and the seriousness of Cassidy. The unbalanced performance does the film no favors, but the surehandedness of writer/director Mike Mosallam overshadows any flaws that might be present.
Breaking Fast manages to lean into its unique circumstance of being a gay story about a Muslim man, while also abiding by many of the traditional romantic comedy tropes, full of cute moments, serious discussions and hearty laughs. Far from a new take on the genre, far from a groundbreaking achievement, Breaking Fast still wins over with its heartfelt, earnest delivery and genuine verve. Its a step in the right direction to getting more of these voices herd and stories told, which is important in and of itself.