THE STORY – A widow pretends to be pregnant with a son in order to save her daughter and home from a relative exploiting Jordan’s patriarchal inheritance laws.
THE CAST – Mouna Hawa, Haitham Alomari & Yumna Marwan
THE TEAM – Amjad Al Rasheed (Director/Writer), Delphine Agut & Rula Nasser (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes
There is an inherent fascination to witness the downward spiral of a character. The potent drama that can be witnessed as events start to unravel in a person’s life can often be compelling drama. It’s the sequence of events that might seem small at first, which eventually cascades into an overwhelming avalanche. Navigating such treacherous waters can be the foundation of a riveting exercise and a platform to elevate a strong central performance. Those are the elements that have been assembled for “Inshallah A Boy,” a gripping examination that isn’t wholly successful in its execution but still manages to be an intriguing dissection into a fractured life.
At the center of this tale is Nawal (Mouna Hawa), a Jordanian woman living a relatively modest life with her husband and daughter. Her life is thrown into chaos when her husband suddenly dies. While still dealing with her grief, she is soon bombarded with an onslaught of conflicts that have arisen in the wake of his passing. His brother Rifqi (Haitham Alomari) is hounding her to repay a debt that her husband owed him. In addition, an issue is found regarding the ownership of her apartment, and the threat of eviction looms large. The stresses of her job as a caregiver for an elderly woman also surface, and she worries about possible termination. In an attempt to postpone for more time, Nawal declares she’s pregnant but has no evidence to support the claim. All she can do is frantically maneuver from one stressful situation to another, hoping that some respite will reveal itself before her world truly comes crumbling down.
Hawa truly is the glue that holds the whole piece together. She delivers a performance that hardly ever indulges in grandiose moments of bombastic outbursts. There are such moments, for sure, but they are strategically placed to give the most impact. Much of her performance is of a quiet nature, silently suffering as she tries to resolve her status with a steadfast determination. She expresses so much in small glances, whether that is to communicate the wrath at the men interfering with her life or the sweetness she desperately wishes to keep embracing with her daughter. It’s a mostly subtle portrayal that Hawa excels at demonstrating. It’s the clear standout among the ensemble, even though Alomari also makes an impression with his antagonistic turn. The most valuable of the supporting players is Eslam Al-Awadi, as Nawal’s co-worker, who is infatuated with her. The two share a nice chemistry, and he exudes a charming, effective persona.
Director Amjad Al Rasheed admittedly does struggle to make this portrait consistently engaging. The quiet pacing does a lot to ease one into this environment slowly, but too often it can also overindulge in a lethargic momentum. One is drawn back into the narrative at many points since the story has aspects that, in certain respects, resemble a thriller. The suspense may not come from some kind of physical assault to evade, but there is a particular mystery that requires ingenuity to overcome. It’s a captivating presentation that isn’t always served by the adequate but unremarkable filmmaking. The storytelling does become more engrossing as the stakes escalate, though there is a timidness to the screenplay that does not feel completely innovative. For its part, the script is a solid foundation to build up the character study. The directorial efforts here never go to extraordinary lengths to convey this commentary, but it does enough to highlight the more successful facets.
If there is anything to strongly recommend about “Inshallah A Boy,” it is the performance at the core of this work. Hawa’s portrayal is quite alluring to watch, and she holds one’s attention throughout this harrowing venture. Other fine members of the cast support her, but there is no denying she carries most of the weight. She more than compensates for a rather anonymous perspective that is behind the camera, though it should be noted nothing in this regard is exceedingly subpar either. It is merely an average delivery mechanism for an impressive performance, as many such studies of a life slowly descending into disarray tend to become.