Full Film Title: Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World
Director: Albert Brooks
Making a film about the post 9/11 political world climate and culture clash between America and the Muslim population is a risky task for anyone but making a comedy about the subject is even more daring yet infinitely wiser when taken on by astute writer/director Albert Brooks who never once veers into judgments but instead, as in most of his other films, uses himself as the most frequent basis for jokes. Although the controversy surrounding the project and especially its lengthy and bold title caused Sony Pictures Classics (who had originally requested a name change) to back out of their agreement to distribute the film on American soil, Warner Independent Pictures stepped in and as uncovered on IMDB, its CEO Mark Gill expressed his belief in a written statement regarding the title’s validity by asking, “How often do you get a laugh simply from the title of a movie?” Brooks, physically ill from the turmoil and uproar over his well-intentioned film released his own response (also quoted from IMDB) sharing, “Even if you didn’t see the movie, you’d see two words you’d never seen put together before—comedy and Muslim. Comedy is friendly—it’s the least offensive word in our language.” In the film, Brooks (as he has in a few of his other works) plays a fictitious version of himself who is asked by a special US Government Commission to visit India and Pakistan for a month in order to write a five hundred page report on what makes the population of those countries laugh, assuming that once one understands another’s sense of humor, one may get a better understanding of the personalities and similarities on a merely humanistic level between the perceived gap and major misunderstandings of the Muslims by the Western world. While Brooks does make a daring venture with his topic, he plays it relatively safe in his fish-out-of-water plight that finds Brooks along with his two state department sidekicks-- Stuart (John Carroll Lynch) a jolly man with comedic delusions of grandeur of his own and Mark (Jon Tenney) the fast-talking ladies man who is always carrying on a simultaneous conversation with an off-screen source via an earpiece and tiny cell phone microphone connection-- learning that humor does in fact sometimes get lost in translation. Brooks’s trademark neuroses and insecurities along with his accidental but frequent faux pas provide much humor as Warner Independent CEO Gill explains saying that “it’s clear that Albert makes himself of America, not anybody else,” (IMDB). However, while the ending does feel a bit rushed, the scene stealing heart of the film (not to mention one of the sole women in the entire cast) is the lovely and funny Sheetal Sheth as Maya, the talented and supportive assistant hired by Brooks for her excellent typing skills and journalistic aspirations. Overall, while not as immediately lovable as Mother or The Muse, Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World is sure to appeal to fans of the multi-talented actor/writer/director.