Where Do We Go Now?
1 out of 4 stars
"Where Do We Go Now?" opens with two or so dozen women slowly making their way down a dusty desert road heading for religiously segregated graveyards. All of them have dour expressions on their faces, are dressed in black and move at a pace slightly faster than a crawl.
After about every fourth step, they cock their heads in unison wildly to either side, radically shift their hips and shuffle their feet as if they're auditioning for an updated, Middle Eastern version of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. You're not sure whether you should gasp, weep or laugh, but by the time writer/director/leading lady Nadine Labaki's painfully protracted film is over, you'll be quite sure she wants you to do all three.
Labaki -- clearly with the best of intentions -- is trying, without any measurable level of success whatsoever, to mix tragedy with comedy within the context of war. This is a severely tough nut to crack and one that only a handful of films ("M*ASH," "Catch-22," "Mr. Roberts," "Dr. Strangelove," "Good Morning Vietnam") have managed to pull off successfully. It also probably doesn't help matters that Labaki is trying to do all of this while two very unpopular real wars taking place in the Middle East are still winding down.
As she did in the far more enjoyable "Caramel," the dark and beautiful Labaki presents her story from the perspective of women via beehive/henhouse retail gatherings. While their men are out busy fighting each other over faith-based dogma, they spitball ideas back and forth in an attempt to try to come up with a way to make them stop. Like the men, the women are Christian and Muslim and by all accepted reasoning should also be at each other's throats, but they're women and are above all of that. You know, the type of petty squabbling that men engage in that inevitably leads to death and war and sadness and strife and whatever depressing result you'd like to add on your own.
So, after much spirited teeth-gnashing, white-knuckled-yet-faux-light-hearted debate, the women come up with their master plan. They'll make the men forget about war by distracting them with -- that's right, you guessed it -- Russian strippers. As any expert will certainly attest, nothing makes far-right, religiously-minded middle-eastern men forget about their fervent, tunnel-vision, jihadist death missions better than pale-skinned, disrobing Eastern European women.
In addition to the horrible acting and plodding pace, the plot of this film is a complete lose/lose scenario for Labaki and women in general. She at once takes on a female-empowerment mantra while conceding that the only way to wrangle in a man is by offering up the suggestion of sex with other women. What good could possibly come from of this? The short and only answer is: nada, zilch, the big goose egg. It's not even funny in a cheesy, so-bad-it's-good sort of way.
Whether you're a man or a woman, a Christian or a Muslim, sexually liberated or staunchly conservative, brain-dead or able to adequately able to fog a mirror, you should avoid this movie with every fiber of your being.
"Where Do We Go Now?" We buy a ticket for any flick playing at this multiplex other than this one, even if our only other choice is the new Adam Sandler movie.
Presented in Arabic and Russian with English subtitles. (Sony Classics)