Eyad Zahra’s The Taqwacores pays lip service to its characters with the same self-importance of a ‘90s-era episode of The Real World, and if its chest-puffing, first-of-my-kind attitude never feels warranted, blame the story’s sketchy pretense to realism. Fact: Before co-writer Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel of the same name was published in 2004, there wasn’t much of a Muslim punk scene in this country. The film, which peers into the lives of a group of punk-obsessed Muslim twentysomethings living in a shabby house in Buffalo, New York, may be seen then as a totem to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Credit Knight for understanding that a Muslim punk scene in America was inevitable, but watching The Taqwacores you get a sense that his more significant accomplishment was giving young Muslims the license to adopt an irritatingly clichéd notion of punk. His characters are all single-trait types who introduce themselves as if they were being recorded for a documentary, and with an eagerness to never please that would be charming in its obliviousness if it didn’t also feel pathological, as in the perpetually shirtless Ayyub (Volkan Eryaman) meeting his new roomie, Yusef (Bobby Naderi), by sneezing on the guy’s computer and wiping the snot all over the screen before crashing to the floor in a presumably drug-induced fit of laughter.
These adults like skating, rocking out, getting their dicks wet, scrawling Patti Smith quotes on their walls—all caught on film by director Ezra Zahra with a scuzziness that, while vivid, suggests the audience has been dropped into a European slum and not Ani DiFranco’s backyard. Just as the setting lacks for meaning, the characters barely achieve ethnic specificity. Every one of them, usually engaged in some conversation with Yusef, announces their issues with sex, their religion, their parents, sometimes themselves, as if on cue, and never to be discussed again. In the end, there’s no drama, no poignancy to how they presumably try to reconcile their American and Muslim identities to make them at all interesting as people. In lieu of such insight, there’s much punk preening—but even the film’s screechy take on the scene feels like a shtick picked up from an old Green Day music video.