Year Released: 2007
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Movies: N/A
For Fans Of: Wonderful World, How About You, My Little Bride
-Lead character Rochel is played by Zoe Lister-Jones. You might recognize her from Life in Pieces, Goyband, and Band Aid where she starred and directed.
-Three languages are spoken: English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
-Satirist Gary Shteyngart makes a cameo playing a Ukrainian suitor that Rochel sees in a dating montage.
Looking at the DVD cover and poster, I liked the film’s fascinating catchphrase. “Friendship has no religion.” I wondered how this movie would play out as I saw a picture of an Orthodox Jewish woman and a Muslim woman next to each other. Yes, it’s from the end scene and I’m glad they blocked out certain elements to avoid spoilers. Haha!
Arranged deals with the lives of these two aforementioned women. It takes place in New York City where the two of them work at the same school. There’s Rochel “Rachel” Meshenberg who’s an Orthodox Jewish paraprofessional who does one-on-one work with a blind student. Then there’s Nasira Khaldi, a devout Muslim teacher who works in the same classroom as Rochel. Both of them also have something in common. These women are going through the process of finding husbands in arranged marriages, hence the title of the movie.
I would have never expected a movie with this concept made here in America. You have these two characters not just being co-workers, but also legitimate friends who share some interests. I thought that was a great heartwarming aspect of this film. Truth be told, I can’t think of any American movie that dealt with a Jewish/Muslim friendship, so kudos to the creators for using this concept. I do confess that there were times that the religious aspect did become defining characteristics such as Rochel and Nasira’s outfits, but it didn’t bother me. Nasira’s family also breaks a ton of stereotypes from both a religious and racial standpoint. She was born in Syria, but her family moved to the Big Apple when she was five. What I liked was that her family was portrayed as a normal family despite following a different religion than most Americans. Her father could easily have been written as some hypocritical and abusive jerk given stereotypes that exist, but I really like how they made him a stern, yet very loving man. The filmmakers deserve all the praise in the world for shattering prejudicial implications. One scene that emphasizes this unity involves the younger relatives of Rochel and Nasira playing in the park. Nasira makes a comment that “Someone should film a commercial for world peace.” while the children are playing together. That was a solid piece of dialog.
Obviously, the main element of the plot revolves around the concept of arranged marriages in regards to each character’s respective religions. Rochel is pressured to marry a good husband that’s pre-selected for her. However, she’s not impressed with any of them. To her credit, several of those prospects were quite self-absorbed and one example was way too shy for his own good. Side note: said shy suitor looks like an older and dressier Ben X and his mannerisms DID NOT HELP AT ALL! Nasira has her own issues and can even be superficial with her potential suitor’s looks especially when it comes to having “good teeth”. This element will definitely be controversial given how ardently religious both families are. I personally don’t want to be part of an arranged marriage myself and this major plot element could be a contentious talking matter for any film discussion group.
Arranged has some likable qualities in this film, but there are some noticeable flaws. There was one editing error with both Rochel and Nasira being driven in a cab and their seat belts are clearly not being worn. They should have payed attention to that detail. Click it or ticket, much? I noticed that Rochel’s accent is quite inconsistent. Most of the time, she has a neutral Midwestern sounding dialect, but other times, she has a thick New York Jewish accent which comes and goes. That threw me off a bunch of times when it happened and I’m not talking about the times where she pronounces her real name instead of being called Rachel. The subplot in Nasira trying to find an Orthodox man to date Rochel had some funny moments, but certain parts were questionable. Some of her tactics would constitute as stalking like when she takes his picture while hiding behind a stacked library shelf while he’s too busy studying. While Arranged does shatter Jewish and Islamic stereotypes, I do feel like the families focus on that being major character traits. The ending does have a happy moment, but some of the dialog could be seen as a bit awkward when they talk about their future plans (no spoilers, but you’ll feel awkward hearing this conversation if you’re a guy. You’ve been warned). There’s even a scene that’s harsh in hindsight when a suitor for Nasira goes back to Syria. I know this was made in 2007, but it’s hard listening to that tiny piece of dialog given that country’s situation right now, and I’ll leave it at that.
Arranged has some charm to it. While it’s far from perfect, it is better than a lot of rom-com junk that’s permeated for over a decade in films. I enjoyed the friendship aspect with the two main characters and how they deal with their situations despite some of the religious and racial tensions. There are some funny scenes and some good character development. However, it does emphasize the religious aspect too much at times, and some characters make some questionable choices. It’s certainly a good watch even though this is in a genre that’s not my cup of tea.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 2 points if you like inter-faith friendship portrayals
Add 1 point if you like romance movies
Subtract 3-4 points if you despise the concept of arranged marriages
-Shattering ethnic and religious stereotypes
-Some funny moments
-Overemphasis on characters being defined by their faiths
-Some protagonist centered morality
-Rochel’s inconsistent accent
Final Score: 7/10 Points
Content Warning: There isn’t too much in terms of objectionable content, but older audiences would get the nuances more than children or younger teens. There’s a couple of swears uttered and one of those times involved Eddie, the student Rochel works with. There’s a house party scene where alcohol and some marijuana is used though. One piece of dialog where Nasira is talking with Rochel about one of her dates makes it sound like sexual harassment until it’s revealed that it was a perfectly innocent situation which ends up being a punchline.
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