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Old 01-20-2006, 03:00 AM   #1
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Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

Reviews of Albert Brooks' new film from the Indian news portal Rediff (partial) and altmuslim.com. I expect the American reviews will be kinder, but as a Jewish South Asianist these reviews made me cringe. At least they're applauding his sincerity...
Quote:
Looking for Comedy not funny enough
rediff.com
Arthur J Pais | January 19, 2006

Albert Brooks has surely found a beguiling title for his newest film, but Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, the sixth the actor and writer has directed, is no laugh riot. It still has a number of awesome jokes though, like Brooks, who plays himself in the film, walking past Taj Mahal and missing it completely. Or him turning up at the New Delhi offices of Al Jazeera thinking the radical Arab network is interested in his research about Muslims, only to find out it wants to cast him in a TV show called That Darn Jew.

The modestly budgeted film ($10 million), shot almost entirely in India, is never boring. But don't go expecting jokes about Muslims. In fact, Brooks who is sent to India by the State Department to find out what makes Muslims in India and Pakistan laugh, spends much of his time in New Delhi interviewing anyone but Muslims. Given the film's premise that Americans seriously stumble while trying to understand another culture, such seeming lapses do not at all appear to be liabilities.

The film begins with a humiliating meeting that Brooks, desperately looking for an acting assignment, has with director Penny Marshall (as herself). He returns home dejected, to find his wife caught up with her addiction to eBay. He also has a letter summoning him to the State Department and assumes someone in the government has discovered that he has visited the Al Qaeda Web site. He is anxious to clear the misunderstanding, but discovers that Washington wants him to do something unbelievable: He is to go to India and Pakistan, find out what makes Muslims laugh, and write a 500-page report!
.......................


Look For Comedy Elsewhere
altmuslim.com
Zahir Janmohamed | January 20, 2006

Watching Albert Brooks in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World is a bit like watching William Hung of American Idol sing: we want to root for him because of his sincerity and his effort but like Hung his talent is no match for the material he tackles.

In the press packet for the film, Brooks says that "If an Indian audience or a Muslim audience could laugh because we're making fun of ourselves a little bit it certainly couldn't hurt."

But the joke is not just on him or Americans but also on (and at the expense) of South Asians and Muslims who are portrayed as primitive bellicose buffoons. The premise is that the US State Department wants to understand what makes Muslims laugh. Brooks is then dispatched (with two State Department minders) to India to complete his research.

After accepting the position, we see Brooks complaining about flying coach class and later about having to take a taxi instead of a government car. I imagine Brooks penned this as a commentary on the US government's frequent failure to equip its people with proper resources, as we see in Iraq with the US troops. Brooks exploits the humor out of this and as a result all of his dialogue seems to end with a question mark: "You mean there are no comedy clubs in Delhi?" "You mean I am supposed to work in this office?" "You mean...?"

It would have been funnier (and more accurate) if Brooks had done a send-up on how State Department officials really travel - in business class and in protected bullet proof conveys with minders who urge staff members not to talk with locals for any reason. Want to buy a salwar khameez outfit in the Lahore bazaar? A State Department assistant will bring the shop to you. The humor is not that American officials and representatives are clueless — it is that this administration's policy often promotes a culture of isolation and fear of locals.

Brooks eventually hires a Hindu assistant named Maya (played with a lousy Indian accent by Sheetal Shah). But before settling on her, Brooks interviews a litany of candidates, including a hijab wearing woman who is obsessed to know if Brooks is Jewish. In another scene, Brooks says "I can't be dealing with Middle Easterns (sic) who will be bury me and throw stones on me." His assistant interjects, "No, that's only in Libya."

It's this sort of "nudge nudge wink wink" humor that Brooks relies too heavily upon in his film. When he is setting up his comedy show, he requests a changing room. When denied, he says, "What, do you not have a changing room? Am I supposed to change on stage?" A Sikh man nods his head. When Brooks is finally given his dressing room, its a teepee style tent outside the theater. "Don't you guys have bathrooms at least?"

In another scene, Maya's Iranian boyfriend (who speaks oddly with a mixed Russian and New Jersey accent) says, "I was the funniest person in explosives camp." I did not know whether to cringe at that line because of its blatant stereotyping or because of its awful writing.

That audiences would find this funny (as they did in the press screening I attended) is partly a reflection of how acceptable it has become to make jokes about Muslims or South Asians. (It is also, I suppose, a reflection of the degradation of films in America where comedians like Brooks can still elicit laughter and critical praise.)

The film hits a low when Brooks travels (illegally) to Pakistan for a comedy show near the border. Brooks performs at a camp-fire gathering of Muslim men who look like they have each done time in a cave in Tora Bora. The group is guarded by bodyguard because we are led to believe that comedy like that is simply too dangerous in Pakistan. Brooks casts himself as a vanguard figure who breaks through (literally and figuratively) to deliver comedy to the starved Muslim people. His character reminded me of Harrison Ford in "The Mosquito Coast" who goes to South America to give people ice because it will change their lives.

Indeed, Brooks should be applauded for his insistence on keeping the word "Muslim" in the film title. But the panache by which Brooks has presented himself as a trailblazer in making this film is troubling. Brooks' comedy is nothing new, despite its admittedly clever title. His comedy is part of a long (and expanding) list of Hollywood movies that uses Muslims, South Asians, and Arabs either as a punchline or a villain.

I imagine that studio heads will gather on Monday morning to assess why the film failed at the box office. Perhaps Sony was right, a studio head may offer, and the word Muslim did in fact draw audiences away. But this could not be father from the truth.

As offensive and racist as Brooks' humor often is, the most offensive part of his film is that it fails to deliver what it searches for: comedy.
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Old 01-20-2006, 03:10 AM   #2
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I hope there are no BOMB BLASTS in theatres and movie halls screening this film.
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Old 01-20-2006, 09:56 AM   #3
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i think it's getting bad reviews over here as well.

for a movie review database, go to: www.rottentomatoes.com
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Old 01-20-2006, 12:31 PM   #4
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Part of Brook's style of comedy is to be awkwardly unfunny. Placing him in an Indian nightclub doesn’t really change much.
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Old 01-20-2006, 01:00 PM   #5
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Quote:
What makes Muslims laugh?
Body parts flying out of pizzarias.

is this the answer some are lookung for?
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Old 01-20-2006, 02:51 PM   #6
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I didn't read the review but it only got 1 star in my local paper
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Old 01-20-2006, 07:39 PM   #7
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I think the best they have to offer is Mullah Nasruddin
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Old 01-20-2006, 07:51 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by MrsSpringsteen
only got star in my local paper
not

a star and crescent?

i know
keep my day job
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Old 01-20-2006, 09:29 PM   #9
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I like Mel Brooks and will see any material he's done.

Often I have wondered if there is humor in the middle east, or what it is they find funny that we would also find funny.
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Old 01-20-2006, 10:04 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by Carek1230
I like Mel Brooks
how do you feel about

al brooks?
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Old 01-23-2006, 07:05 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally posted by deep

Body parts flying out of pizzarias.

is this the answer some are lookung for?


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Old 01-23-2006, 10:11 PM   #12
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I think C.S. Lewis summed it up about right.
*in Mere Christianity methinks*

They are not allowed (by their religion) to drink alcoholic beverages.

It can be a very uptight feeling. :eek


The upside is, kill yourself for Allah (and some infidels) and you will have rivers of wine.
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Old 01-23-2006, 10:27 PM   #13
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Actually, from firsthand experience I can attest that many Central and South Asian Muslims do indeed drink, and quite a few of their more exalted Moghul forbears were in fact famous for their vineyards in Kashmir (and other forms of appreciation for the pleasures of the good life, including representational art, interpretive dance and mystical, often erotic, devotional poetry). It's a distinctive Muslim subculture in its own right, with quite a few differences in lifestyle sensibility from their (purportedly) sterner Arab brethren.
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Old 01-23-2006, 10:43 PM   #14
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Thanks yolland, I did not know that.

I hope the sterner Arab brethren catch on.


It would be nice if we could just drink a neat pint of stout
together and leave the bombs outside the pub.


I think God would be pleased with our toast.
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