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Not Without My Daughter (1991)
Reviewed on 2013 January 16
Here’s a movie from the ’90s that is based on the true story of a woman stranded in the Middle East by the man she thought she could trust. It sounds like dreck but it’s actually well-told. It’s also pretty frightening, since variations of Betty Mahmoody’s story no doubt happen around the world.
Betty (Sally Field) is wary when her husband Sayed “Moody” Mahmoody (Alfred Molina) wants to visit his family in Tehran. The upheavals in Iran frighten her, but Moody promises her she’ll be safe. Besides, the trip will only be for two weeks, and his family never even met her, or their daughter, Mahtob. She’ll get to meet his clan, eat Persian food, take in what’s left of the Persian culture post-Ayatollah…and did he mention she’ll be safe and good, and it’ll only be two weeks?
Surprise! Moody decides that this new wave of fundamentalism sweeping Iran is just the ticket for a super life, and Betty and Mahtob are going to learn to like it. If she can’t handle it, Betty can go home to the U.S., but Mahtob will stay and be raised with his family. Despite Moody’s entire family watching her like hawks, Betty makes other plans.
The characters, good and bad, are painted with cartoonily broad strokes, but that’s because we’re trying to condense Betty’s story into a movie. It happens. Several reviewers decry this movie as racist, which surprises me. Islam isn’t a race, plus Betty is assisted by several kind Persians who are fed up with both Moody’s treatment of her and what the Ayatollah did to their country. “Creep” isn’t a race. The worst thing I can say about it is that it’s a little heavy-handed. Molina is always up to whatever material he’s given, and Fields makes a sympathetic, convincing Betty.
Two chocolate morsels and some good Turkish food. The book is even better.