Philadelphia Film Festival – ‘Naz & Maalik’ comes close to satire

Naz & Maalik
Directed by Jay Dockendorf
United States, 2015
Philadelphia Film Festival

Naz (Kerwin Johnson, Jr.) and Maalik (Curtiss Cook, Jr.) are gay and Muslim – the latter alone a recipe for suspicion from an FBI agent (Annie Grier), and the former enough to stoke that apprehension. The two teenagers walk the streets of New York on a summer day selling lottery tickets, talking about coming out to their families, and encountering a cast of eccentric characters.

A lot of the performances in Naz & Maalik falter, but Curtiss Cook, Jr. is a light as Maalik. He’s magnetic and energetic, with a wolf in sheep’s clothing smile. He’s slightly secondary to Naz and that’s a shame. Scenes where director Jay Dockendorf prefers to follow Naz would have been stronger if the focus had been opposite.

At times Naz & Maalik comes close to satire. The FBI snare – attempt to sell a gun to a black man, report him to your superior, have said superior trail – speaks volumes in terms of current surveillance and racism (both FBI agents depicted are white), but the woodenness, suddenness, and obviousness of it all seems more Saturday Night Live than drama. Perhaps Dockendorf would have been better served to push his film further in that direction.

Scenes like those where a chicken jumps off of a roof and causes a car accident, or the various interactions with stereotypically “crazy” homeless people seem out of place, and sometimes elicit illogical reactions from the characters.

There’s sharp dialogue in here. An imam at Naz and Maalik’s local mosque begins the prayer by welcoming any undercover police or FBI. Dan (Anderson Footman), the title characters’ friend, has a hilarious and well-played conversation with the FBI agent. These moments are funny and revealing – the best kind of writing.

 

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