A fraught courtship culminates with a musical profession of love in “Breaking Fast,” a movie that filters elements of the romantic comedy genre through a queer, multiethnic lens.
“Breaking Fast,” released Friday on VOD and digital, follows Mo (Haaz Sleiman), a Muslim doctor of Lebanese descent on the rebound after a bitter split from his boyfriend, Hassan (Patrick Sabongui).
Sparks fly when Mo is introduced to an easygoing, all-American actor named Kal (Michael Cassidy) at a birthday party for a sassy mutual pal, Sam (Amin El Gamal). The timing of the meeting couldn’t be worse, however, as Mo is about to observe the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking and sexual activity from dawn to sunset.
Catch a sneak peek at the film via the clip above.
Obstacles to intimacy aside, “Breaking Fast” rarely strays far from rom-com tropes, and there’s never a doubt a happy ending is in the cards for Mo and Kal by the time the credits roll. Still, the movie is heartfelt, introspective and forward-thinking in its portrayal of a cross-cultural relationship. The specifics of Mo’s Muslim faith, for instance, keep the movie grounded in reality, as does a long-simmering conflict between Kal and his estranged father. There’s plenty of charm and nostalgia, too, with winks at “Superman,” “The Sound of Music” and “Meet Me in St. Louis,” among other classics.
Writer and director Mike Mosallam said “Breaking Fast” was born of his own frustrations with the lack of queer Muslim representation in television and film. At the encouragement of Michael Lannan, the creator of HBO’s gay-themed series “Looking,” Mosallam wrote a script for a 15-minute short depicting an early version of Mo and Kal’s meet-cute.
The original “Breaking Fast,” released in 2015, was warmly received by critics and screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Its success prompted Mosallam to expand the story into a full-fledged movie.
“I was really stumped when asked about what best represented a journey like mine in film and TV,” said Mosallam, who is based in Los Angeles. “I could not think of an answer. ... A lot of Julia Roberts’ rom-coms taught me what it meant to love, to receive love, to give love, even though none of those characters looked like me. So it was really me wanting to insert myself, and my journey, into a familiar structure.”
“Intimacy can be funny because the stakes are so high, and we’re always pretending they’re not,” he said. “We’re always laughing and giggling on first dates, but we’re always hiding things from ourselves and from each other. [Getting to explore that] is what drew me to it.”
As a practicing Muslim, Mosallam is conscious of the fact that “Breaking Fast” could draw controversy. Traditionally, Islamic scholars hold conservative views of same-sex relationships, though Muslims in some countries have indicated support for LGBTQ rights. Still, the filmmaker believes those who dismiss Islam as anti-LGBTQ are misguided.
“The Muslim community is not, in fact, a community,” he said. “It’s a collection of communities. ... It’s frustrating that some people can’t see past their own fears and ignorance, but these conversations are happening. Let this movie be a step in challenging that worldview.”
Neither Mosallam nor Cassidy could have predicted that “Breaking Fast,” which had its premiere at California’s Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival last year, would be released amid a devastating pandemic. In many respects, it’s a perfectly aspirational love story for the COVID-19 era, as Mo and Kal spend most nights enjoying sumptuous, home-cooked meals in keeping with the movie’s Ramadan backdrop.
“Above all, I want audiences to see this film as an ideal,” Mosallam said. “I’ve tried to create a sense of happiness for people in a time of real divisiveness. Whether a person feels this film represents them or not, I hope it’s enough to make them share their true authentic story or their version of their lived experiences.”
Cassidy shared those sentiments. “I really hope people can see themselves in this film and that they have a feeling of belonging. That is, by far, the most meaningful response that I can receive toward any of my work.”
“Breaking Fast” is available on VOD and digital Jan. 22.