Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? is a tragicomic, feminist musical from Lebanon, which means it is about as naturally graceful as a feathered fish. It makes for a bizarre, sometimes moving, often irritating watch, and thanks to this odd bit of cultural rubbernecking, we can get a sense of how, say, Japanese audiences might react to a Tyler Perry movie.
Director Labki's well-received debut, Caramel, revolved around a group of ladies in a Beirut beauty shop, and this one also involves a tight-knit group of women, this time in a tiny remote mountain village where Christians and Muslims live, work, play and mourn together. The ladies have grown tired of watering the town cemetery with tears every time the endless, foolish religious conflict claims another of their sons, fathers or husbands. Fed up, the gals hatch a number of wacky schemes to promote peace: They sabotage the communal TV to avoid bad news, fake pronouncements from the Virgin Mary, hire a troupe of Russian exotic dancers to stick around for a few days and distract the guys. Finally they bake a whole bushel of hashish and sleeping pills into a pastry to knock the hotheaded men out. The women in this film are wise enough to rise above petty fights, which is as hopeful and cheery a fantasy as the sporadic musical numbers.
There are enough threads, subplots and notions to fuel several pictures, and Labaki struggles to juggle them all and to manage the tonal shifts from singing and dancing to spoofing and weepy histrionics. The cast sports some obvious nonactors, and the uneven performances don't help when the material goes off the rails. Almost everyone, on either side, comes off as bit of a yokel, and the level of comedy ranges from subtle to Hee-Haw buffoonery, which flatters no one.
With near endless political strife, civil and external wars, Lebanon has turned out roughly as many movies since 1920 as Hollywood produces in a good year, so it may be slightly unfair to grade by Western standards. Hopefully, a promising director like Labaki gets a chance to improve and enrich her craft, and we get to see more stories from her unique perspective.
Showing at the Main Art Theatre, 118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111
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