By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 18, 2013 at 3:11PM
Having explored a Palestinian woman's difficulty assimilating into U.S. culture in her winning 2009 debut, "Amreeka," writer-director Cherien Dabis flips the script to more ambitious but less satisfying effect in "May in the Summer." Observing the upheaval that ensues when an Arab-American bride-to-be returns to the family homestead in Amman, Jordan, this warmly conceived but largely formulaic picture is by turns sensitive and shrill, culturally perceptive and overly broad in its dysfunctional-family melodramatics. Easy-viewing arthouse audiences should find "Summer's" combo of accessible, femme-centric material and exotic environs to their liking.
The delicate humor, strong sense of cultural identity and deep affection for her characters that distinguished Cherien Dabis’ Amreeka are again in evidence in her second feature, May in the Summer. But while there’s much to enjoy here – particularly in the touching performance of Hiam Abbass – there’s also plenty that is clichéd and forced in this rather conventional story of a young American-Jordanian woman hesitating on the precipice of marriage.
Its storytelling alone makes "May in the Summer" stand out from the industry standard for this form of pre-wedding drama, but the movie also impressively avoids making a big deal out of its milieu. The presence of old world values and Middle Eastern strife only occasionally comes into play as one of many organic forces intrinsic to the environment… More than anything else, "May in the Summer" holds together due to its committed lead performance. Dabis, making her acting debut, comes across as aggressively confident onscreen as she is behind it.
Get ready for “My Big Fat Jordanian Wedding,” or don’t, because “May in the Summer” is probably not coming soon to a theater near you. Writer-director Cherien Dabis, the star of this sort-of romcom/sort of drama, has the face and figure of a runway model. Unfortunately, she also has the acting ability of one, displaying little affect in this dreary culture clash.