Let’s get the synopsis out of the way, it’s quite a chunky one. May (Cherien Dabis) is from a Christian family in Amman, Jordan and is about to get married to her Muslim fiance. Despite living in New York along with her sisters (Nadine Malouf and Alia Shawkat) she returns to get married in her hometown. May arrives a few weeks before her wedding without her fiance and comes to clashes with her born again Christian mother (Hiam Abbass) who does not approve of their inter-faith union despite the fact that May is essentially an atheist. To add further complication to the mix May and her sisters decide to reunite with their estranged father (Bill Pullman) and his young second wife (Ritu Singh Pande). Oh and while she’s in town May starts to flirt with a total stranger called Karim (Elie Mitri) who runs adventure tours.
As you can see there is a lot going on in the film and as such various threads are weaker than others and the film lacks enough focus for anything to really hit home. May is the focus of the film but comes across as quite a spoiled and selfish woman who does not easily earn the audience’s sympathies. What might seem like an ideal life for some seems to cause her an inordinate amount of angst. We barely see her fiance so it is tricky to get properly involved in whatever doubts she may be having and her flirtations with Karim are too lighthearted to ever really trouble the plot.
With this smorgasbord of plot points and characters I think the film’s producers would like us to think that May’s life is about to “spin hopelessly out of control”, to quote the IMDb page, but it all happens so slowly and without much consequence that her life doesn’t so much completely unravel as it does just develop a loose thread. May is a woman with a lot of problems but failed to get any empathy building in me, perhaps her strife was too seemingly privileged in comparison to the other films at this year’s festival.
The one part of the film that really did work for me was the overall family dynamic. Malouf and Shawkat are much more enjoyable as May’s sister and their gentle sibling squabbles are relatable and fun to watch. The conflict between May and her mother is fantastic and sparks an interesting debate about whether love is enough to sustain a relationship if you don’t share the same religion and how much judgement a mother should pass on her daughter’s choice of husband. Abbass is by far the star of the film as a deeply religious woman who has had her heartbroken and is generally disapproving of everything her three daughters do.
I struggled to connect to May and so struggled with the film as a whole but strong performances from the ensemble and some diamonds amongst the mess of plots made May in the Summer a moderately enjoyable experience.