The Taqwacores

Rock versus punk.

Rock versus punk.

(2010) Drama (Strand) Bobby Naderi, Noureen DeWulf, Dominic Rains, Jim Dickson, Nav Mann, John Charles Meyer, Nicholas Riley, Ara Thorose, Ian Tran, Volkan Eryaman, Tony Yalda, Marwan Kamel, Denise George, Anne Leighton, Rasika Mathur. Directed by Eyad Zahar

Art imitates life, it is said but sometimes life imitates art. Michael Muhammad Knight wrote a novel about a fictitious Muslim punk scene and lo and behold, inspired by the novel, several bands of that nature sprung up. Taqwacore, which is a fusion of the Islamic word taqwa which refers to love, fear and respect for Allah, and hardcore, a sub-genre of punk which many of the Taqwacore bands reside, still is viable today. This indie film is based on the original novel.

Yusef (Naderi) is studying engineering at a university in Buffalo, New York. He is a fairly devout Muslim and feels uncomfortable in the dorms which he finds to be godless and where he is sometimes ridiculed. He decides to find off-campus housing that he can share with fellow Muslims.

Imagine his surprise when he found this house full of musicians and radicals who think that their religion is too strict, too structured. Yusef finds his horizons being widened by such as red Mohawked guitar player Jenangir (Rains) who says “Allah is too big and too open for my Islam to be small and closed.”

Yusef finds his mind broadening but his basic moral framework tested as his new housemates party like it’s 1999 and challenge the very meaning of what it is to be Islamic. Yusef begins to find that the punk ethos dovetails very nearly with that of his new found understanding of his religion.

What I like about the movie is that we get some insight into what it is to be a young man of the Islamic faith in the 21st century. That isn’t always an easy task – few Americans, myself included, really have much of an understanding of Islam. We either look at the lot of them as Jihadists (which they are not) or anti-Christians and particularly, anti-Jew (which most of them are not). I’ve known many people of that faith and you will not find a warmer, more caring and more family-oriented group anywhere.

That said, I like seeing that yes there are people within Islam questioning the things they were taught and told about their religion, very much like what has happened with plenty of Christian young people. I find the thought somehow comforting that questioning one’s faith is somewhat more universal than I first supposed. I don’t know why I would have thought that; it isn’t just a Christian thing after all.

Rains delivers a solid performance as the charismatic Jenangir. With the flaming red Mohawk and natural charisma, he captures your attention pretty much whenever he’s onscreen. I’m sorry I can’t say the same for the rest of the cast, but that isn’t necessarily their fault – their characters are written as fairly bland cliches that don’t really stand out. Yusef, experiencing a life-changing crisis of faith, never seems to change expression much. He may just as well be annoyed that the barista at Starbucks got his order wrong. But then again, his crisis of faith seems rather pat and kind of rote. I wasn’t convinced that he was upset with anything or anyone.

Not everyone is going to love the music here, although I must point out that I found it surprisingly compelling. When you’re aware that the bands that contributed songs to the film were bands that essentially were created because of the original novel this is based on, the songs take on a greater significance.

I would have liked to like this movie more but the rich tapestry of subject matter the filmmakers were given to work with turned out to be a store-bought throw rug. It’s not a bad film, not at all – it just doesn’t really rise far above what you might expect of a movie like this. I would have liked to see greater care in fleshing out the characters somewhat. I would have liked to care about them more.

WHY RENT THIS: Thought-provoking and occasionally informative. Rains delivers a standout performance.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Relies too much on cliche. Characters somewhat bland.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s rough language throughout and some violence in places.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While the movie is set in Buffalo, it was actually filmed in Cleveland.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11,445 on an unreported production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dogs in Space
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Magic in the Moonlight

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