August 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Witty and wise 'May in the Summer' ponders love, family

Cherien Dabis, left, Alia Shawkat and Nadine Malouf star as sisters in the comedy drama 'May in the Summer.' (Cohen Meida Group)

“May in the Summer” is a lovely meditation on family and love with crossing cultures and second thoughts.

It’s written and directed by Cherien Dabis (“Amreeka”), who also stars as May, returning to Jordan where she was raised to reunite with her family a month before she marries. May and her sisters — Yasmine (Nadine Malouf) and Dalia (Alia Shawkat) — all live in America now, and their estranged father (Bill Pullman) works for the American embassy, so they are both at home and somewhat alien in Jordan.

Complications are immediately apparent. May is engaged to a Muslim-born professor, who has stayed back in New York City to work until the wedding. Her Jordanian mother, Nadine (Hiam Abbass), however, is a devout Christian and refuses to attend May’s wedding, even though neither May nor her fiance are religious.

But it’s not just her mother. May has become a successful writer with a book about the wisdom of Arabic sayings. One of those sayings is about people always becoming children when they return home, and that certainly holds true here. The gabby Yasmine is a party girl who can’t keep a secret; Dalia tends to be a cynical loner, apart from things. The three bicker and shop and vacation and probe into one another’s lives.

And then there’s May’s lurking sense of indecision — does she want to marry? Religion has nothing to do with it, but the question still lingers.

Over the course of the film, Dabis takes the family through confrontation, reconciliation and revelation, in ways funny and painful and confusing. The sight of three Americanized women working out their lives in a familiar foreign land offers a global context that’s unique and Dabis has a wonderful sense of reality throughout the film: You believe in these people, you care about them and their struggles. And in the end, you wish them all the best.

'May in the Summer'

GRADE: B+

Rated R for some language

Running time: 99 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

More Tom Long