In Breaking Fast, Mo is an American-born son of loving and accepting Muslim immigrant parents from Lebanon; he’s a successful doctor in West Hollywood, best friend to quirky and less-observant Sam (Amin El Gamal), and recently single following a breakup with his partner, who decided to marry a woman in order to keep peace and save face with his Muslim father.
Haaz Sleiman plays Mo, who believes a single impure thought will spoil this day’s fast. When happy-go-lucky Sam lures him to his birthday party, Mo meets Kal (Michael Cassidy), a charming and “very attractive” actor who not only speaks Arabic because he grew up in Jordan, but also understands and accepts Mo’s religious lifestyle. Romance ensues.
Kal is the temptation that ultimately helps Mo leave his very rigid, if not neurotic, relationship with life and Islam, which he understands in black-and-white terms. Kal, and to a certain extent, Sam, force Mo to confront his blind spots in a romantic comedy that you know will end well for everyone. The genre is rewarding for its guarantee of happy endings, if you’re into that—and who isn’t, given how difficult life is under the present pandemic, economic, and climate circumstances—if you’re looking for a rom-com that is fun and easy to watch on its way to a happy ending, Breaking Fast is for you.
In 2005, director Mike Mossolam had showcased the short film version of Breaking Fast, so this long feature is a project he’s been nurturing for a long time. Conscious of the genre’s clichés, Mossolam gestures toward classic moments in Superman to show us how essential a good old embrace is—whether between an superhuman alien and a woman or between a Muslim man and his male lover—and just how essential the trope of the hero and damsel in distress are to the age-old falling in love trope.
Kal, the WeHo actor, was named after Superman’s alien name Kal-El (before his earthbound parents renamed him Clark Kent). Interestingly, Superman was also the face of a French AIDES campaign that used his alien positionality as a reference for gay men. Likewise, Brad Fraser, in his play Poor Super Man, used the figure of the alien hero as a metaphor for gay men fighting AIDS since, according to Fraser, a gay men could identify “more keenly with Superman’s alien-amid-deceptive-lookalikes status.”
What I find somewhat unfortunate, from my point of view as a Bosniak woman of Muslim heritage, is that Kal, like Superman, saves Mo. Mo is figured as a rigid Muslim, unable to connect with others and incapable of holding a plurality of opinions. Thus, the only observant Muslim in the film is presented as closed-minded and incapable of nuance. Like Lois Lane who is saved by Superman, Mo is saved by Kal. This decision feeds into the stereotype of the rigid Muslim in need of Westernization. While no doubt this kind of person exists, the truth of the Muslim experience is not as dichotomous as Mossolam presents in the film: it’s not either rigid and observant Muslims like Mo or totally non-observant and Westernized Muslims like Sam. Many LGBTQ+ Muslims hold a plurality of identities and positions, perfectly capable of nuance and complexity, and certainly not in need of saving by American hero figures.