Coming up on six years ago, writer/director Cherien Dabis charted the convoluted waters of her own mixed cultural heritage in festival darling Amreeka. The film followed a West Bank mother, specifically a Palestinian Christian, and her struggles to adjust after transplanting to Indiana, USA. With a win at Cannes and nominations around the world, including at Sundance and the Spirit Awards, Dabis announced to the cinematic world that she had a little-shared story to tell. And then nothing. Six years and only one short film later, she has reappeared with May in the Summer, a less effective portrait of the other half of her identity.
Set and shot in Jordan, May in the Summer follows May (Cherien casting herself as the lead) as she heads from NYC back home to Amman to marry Muslim scholar Ziad (Alexander Siddig). Despite teaching at Columbia with a distinguished résumé, Ziad’s faith draws the scorn of May’s Christian mother, Nadine (Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Hiam Abbass). As if thing’s weren’t hard enough with the family matriarch, May’s estranged father, Edward (POTUS himself, Bill Pullman), shows up on the scene to reconnect. Throw in two precocious sisters, and May is sitting on an emotional powder keg with a short fuse in the dead heat of Arabic summer.
May in the Summer did not make the splash Amreeka did, critically or commercially. Still squeaking its way into Sundance, Cherien seemed less capable with the film’s tonality and message this time around. Her mixed cultural upbringing is an imperative part of her storytelling, and yet, she seems imbalanced; more at home in America and her characters there, then the country at her roots and around the world. There are charming and complicated moments, but the aggregate is less than powerful. That said, hopefully, it won’t be another six years before Cherien has another chance at bat. Her stories are refreshingly feminine, with the males, absent more than present, serving only to catapult the women’s storylines forward dramatically. There are not enough female voices in cinema, let alone Arabic ones. As with the world, it is time for Hollywood to expand.
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Trailer and behind-the-scenes, along with a still gallery.
"May in the Summer" is on sale January 20, 2015 and is rated R. Drama, Foreign. Written and directed by Cherien Dias. Starring Bill Pullman, Cherien Dias, Hiam Abbass.