Multicultural wish-fulfillment narratives are common in American indies, particularly post–9-11. The best, like 2007’s The Visitor, keep the maudlin hand-holding to a minimum and allow the complexities of human interaction to do the heavy lifting. Jeremiah Birnbaum’s Torn does just that, so when the inevitable camaraderie between unlikely characters develops, it actually feels possible. Maryam (Mahnoor Baloch), a Muslim American, and Lea (Dendrie Taylor), a stereotypically blue-collar Caucasian, meet after an explosion at the local mall has killed their teenage sons. Singularly shared experience quickly bonds the two, until the impending investigation into whether Maryam’s mosque-attending son harbored anti-American sentiment ignites an unfortunate blame game. The highly charged material allows Baloch and Taylor to express a full range of emotions, and their nuanced performances greatly benefit the film. Michael Richter’s intimate script traverses this mercurial territory without veering into hysterics—a great accomplishment. When the women tearfully confront one another, you’re on the journey toward acceptance with them. Made for less than $500,000, Torn is proof that a little can go a long way. In fact, the microscale perfectly lends itself to the story’s quiet revelations. Sure, it feels a little bit like a “very special” ABC Family presentation, but sometimes that sort of tenderness is exactly what the world needs.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 16, 2013