On paper, Breaking Fast (★★★★☆) sounds like a fairly conventional romantic comedy, with a few twists to add a veneer of interest — the lead characters are gay, and one of them is a Muslim man preparing to fast for the month of Ramadan. In the hands of director Mike Mosallam, these small tweaks to the formula become rich ground for exploring a romance rarely seen on screen.
We are first introduced to Mo (Haaz Sleiman), a dorky, somewhat high-strung West Hollywood doctor who is reeling from a painful breakup more than a year on. He meets Kal (Michael Cassidy), an actor who exudes easygoing charm, at a birthday party for his best friend. The two hit it off, and make plans to meet up later that night, but a quick series of misunderstandings separate them and leave the hyper-sensitive Mo feeling Kal has rejected him.
When the two run into each other again, Kal invites himself along to Mo’s iftar, and they soon begin seeing each other nightly, sparking a slow-burning relationship that becomes a test of patience for both men as Mo is abstaining from sex during the holy month. Kal, who used to live in Jordan with his family, is familiar with the customs and etiquette around Ramadan, a touch that allows the film to jump right into exploring the budding dynamic between the pair.
Sleiman and Cassidy have an undeniable chemistry that goes a long way towards making their bond believable. Mo’s little moments of panic are fun and endearing, while Kal is sincere, charismatic and loyal, almost a human golden retriever. The film mostly opts to allow most of its charm and humor to come from the little moments and interactions between the two as their personalities rub up against each other, rather than the kinds of contrived situations that are a staple of the genre.
Mosallam’s sensitivity and attention to detail is the film’s greatest strength. The director also deserves credit for treating issues of religious and cultural differences with respect and deference without ever making caricatures of them, or turning the film into a two-dimensional allegory.
Breaking Fast hits the same beats as nearly any romantic comedy, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Kal and Mo end up falling in love over the course of the film. Mosallam has not set out to deliver a groundbreaking plot or turn the structure of a rom-com on its head, only to paint a portrait of two people slowly falling in love, one that is as sensitive and heartfelt as it is genuinely fun to watch.
Breaking Fast screens as part of this year’s Reel Affirmations Film Festival. For more information about the festival or to purchase tickets or festival screening passes, visit https://reelaffirmations.eventive.org.
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