I never was fully on board with Arranged. It’s a positive, uplifting dramedy set in New York, about the unlikely friendship between a young Orthodox Jewish woman and a young Muslim woman, both facing the prospects of marrying people they barely know at the behest of their families and matchmakers.

It just felt manipulative to me. The political messages were too obvious.

The women become friends very easily, with no need to work through issues of distrust or discomfort.

The families are a little uncomfortable with their connection, but only in kind of cute, quirky ways. There’s no genuine hostility.

Everything from wearing traditional Muslim garb to agreeing to a semi-arranged marriage is presented as an unobjectionable and indeed admirable loyalty to one’s culture, not anything anti-woman or anti-modernity or anti-human rights. And anyone who doesn’t see it that way is a bigot at worst, or an uninformed, insensitive fool at best.

Not that the protagonists aren’t pleasant, likable folks, and not that there aren’t some chuckles and some cute moments in the film. But I just found it heavy handed in pushing a certain vision of multiculturalism.

I especially was uncomfortable with its treatment of the principal at the school where the women work. She is a secular Jewish woman, well-motivated, frank, traditionally liberal and at least somewhat feminist, but she is treated as something of a buffoon for giving advice to the women to live more autonomously and not be bound by traditional, patriarchal ways. She’s laughed at behind her back about it, and in a dramatic scene late in the movie, one of the women tells her off to her face for not recognizing that embracing traditional religious and cultural values is just as much an autonomous choice and just as worthy of respect as any other.

Well that certainly puts her in her place. Except all things considered, I still find myself closer to her worldview than to theirs.

I understand that there’s a moral problem with coercing people out of traditional beliefs and practices, and I understand that there’s a strategic problem with being too in-your-face about criticizing such customs and making the people you’re trying to reach defensive. But all of those beliefs and practices absolutely should be questioned, and the majority of them should be cast aside.

I say bravo to the principal for trying to raise consciousness, and if her frankness makes her less likely to succeed, that’s not to her discredit, but to the discredit of those who won’t listen.

So I can’t say this celebration of folks refusing to melt into the melting pot (and yet still being able with zero difficulty to make cross-cultural friendships) particularly struck a chord with me.

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