Not Without My Daughter Movie Review
OK, OK. Not Without My Daughter is a deadly serious story, but what can I say? Sometimes I find it hard to take Sally Field seriously, especially when she's racing around the dark streets of Teheran with her eternal baby face framed by a Muslim head scarf. It's a strange situation for sure, but it's not fiction. The events depicted here are based on a true story, as they say.
Betty Mahmoody (Field) is an American married to Moody (Alfred Molina), an Iranian immigrant who works, somewhat unhappily, in the U.S. as a doctor. They have a young daughter, the unfortunately named Mahtob (Sheila Rosenthal). The moody Moody, who feels he's suffering discrimination at work, needs a break and decides to take the family for a visit back to his homeland.
As an American, Betty is nervous about making the trip, but the suave Moody reassures her, and off to Teheran they go. Big mistake, Betty.
Once back in the bosom of his family, which seems to consist mainly of old crones in black burqas who despise the infidel Betty, Moody suddenly realizes he's happy again and decides to stay... forever. No way, says Betty, and after a few fights, Moody tells her she can go home, but Mahtob will be staying. No way, Betty says again, and suddenly she finds herself a virtual prisoner of the increasingly violent Moody and his evil relatives. What is she going to do now?
Betty's goal, of course, is to get the hell out of Iran, but not without her daughter, but to do so she's going to have to find a sort of Iranian underground railroad, a chain of sympathetic taxi drivers, document forgers, and smugglers, to help her out. The movie has a delightful touch of Rosemary's Baby-like paranoia about it. Everyone is out to get Betty. Who can she trust? Who's listening in? Who's spying on her? Does Moody want to kill her? Slowly and methodically, Betty uses her brief daily excursions to the market to build a network. Soon enough, Rosemary's Baby is turning into The Great Escape.
The off-putting thing about Not Without My Daughter is its relentlessly ugly depiction of Islam and the Muslims who practice it. By all reports, the book on which the movie was based was more subtle and educational about Islamic practices. Here, however, it's simply a story of good (white) against evil (brown), with a cute little girl (half white, half brown) caught in the middle. I can only imagine how the movie was received on its initial release, right around the time of the first Gulf War. There's not a lot of international understanding going on here.
Not Without My Daughter has a great villain and some great suspense, but it also has Field, still Gidgety at 45 and hard to believe in the role, and her hysterical take on Betty is kind of grating after a while. You start wishing she'd just cut to the chase, put on a nun's habit, and fly home to America.