The film "Arranged" is a New York story about two Brooklyn public school teachers. One teacher is an Orthodox Jewish young woman, Rochel and the other a devout Muslim, Nasira, who become friends in the midst of the period in their life when their well-meaning, but sometimes off-the-mark parents try to marry them off.
At first, it seems like Rochel and Nasira have nothing in common but as we get to know them, as they get to know each other, we see that because of their traditional religious cultures, they have plenty to commiserate about. No one can pronounce their names. No one understands why they dress the way they do. They live at a constant tension with the secular world and when they recognize this, this brings them together as friends.
The film is full of poignant moments like when their students wonder aloud if Rochel and Nasira hate each other because people from their religious traditions are always at odds in the media. And Rochel and Nasira's parents are more than shocked by this friendship.
There are the infinitely awkward moments the two women share with the secular Jewish principal who tries to make it her mission to get free from the religious oppression she is so sure marks their daily lives. Lest you think the principal is a cruel caricature, I found that she was representative of the strange encounters I had with my own former principal, which I worked under during my conversion process, as well as what I experienced with secular Jewish friends.
The film is also full of hilarious moments. I found that I couldn’t stop laughing while watching the film. There is a great montage of all the nebbish guys the matchmakers set up the Orthodox Jewish girl with. And while the stereotypes abound (about matchmakers, about secular coworkers), all of them are good-natured.
The New York Times review noticeably missed the mark. They were so concerned with how "awful" and "patriarchal" the girl's lives were that they couldn't even be bothered with appreciating the film. Anyone who has lived between two worlds, the secular and the religious, will find themselves connecting with this amusing, light-hearted story.
(If you have Netflix, you can watch "Arranged" instantly.)
Another notable movie about religious folk is "Doubt," starring Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Streep is cast as a stern Catholic nun who is concerned with a parish priest's (Hoffman) relationship to a young boy in their parochial school. The film is an artful walk on eggshells pulling the audience between two strong characters while remaining doubtful of the characters' true intentions.
Yes, I know a lot of us aren't watching movies in theaters (or at home) because of The Three Weeks. I also know that this year Hollywood is supporting Jewish causes by putting out films that no one wants to watch anyway.