Set in Lebanon, Shady Hanna’s What Did I Mess is a very relevant romantic comedy about love (ex-love and fake love), family dynamics, and Lebanese social concerns.
In an adorable attempt to flaunt her new fiance, Nayla (Rola Beksmati) invites her awkward ex-lover, Fares (Junaid Zeineldine) to a dinner party with unexpected guests, arak, and a new fiance. Sylvio is a businessman who’s taken to Nayla at a rather convenient time when she is still pining after Fares. Her plans to ambush Fares are successful and the two men meet. Although, there’s a catch…
Sylvio is under the impression that Fares is gay.
Fares’ perceived sexuality is not the butt of the joke by any means. The joke here is that his loyalty to Nayla and the potential promise of financial help from Sylvio keeps him trapped in this facade while he watches Sylvio make moves on his ex-girlfriend.
Each character seems to have this burning desire to stay in character. In the social setting of a dinner party, they are all trying to maintain their status, whatever that looks like to them. Fares is trying to uphold the image Nayla has picked out for him, while she is struggling to be two different people for both of the men in her life. Matteo El Khodr, who plays Alex (Fares’… “date”), even pushes Fares’ false identity onto him, furthering this idea that they’re all clinging to a facade for the sake of their image. This concept is furthered by the story’s plot twist in the end when Sylvio (Abboudy Mallah) comes out as gay and confesses that his love for Nayla was all a ruse to protect his name for the sake of his company.
IMDb reviews applaud this film for being very “Lebanon”. While some say the jokes are cheap, most agree that there is a Middle Eastern familiarity to the film that holds true throughout. It’s a comforting watch with a predictable script that makes it the perfect film to have running and then jump back into after a popcorn break.
It’s light-hearted and influential — touching on Lebanese stereotyping in a fun way while still maintaining the general themes of a universally known romcom. The simple set of Nayla’s home aside from the occasional venture out onto the balcony makes this film feel stagnant and visually confined at times, though surely this helped with budgeting.
The production value of the film was admittedly distracting in some moments, and so was the cheap humor. There were aspects of this film — particularly its cinematography and editing- that made the storyline feel very skit-like. Many scenes felt drawn-out and strange, with sporadic cutting and too many over-the-shoulder shots. It begins to feel predictable and neverending at around the 90-minute mark.
Nevertheless, I appreciated Hanna’s willingness to tackle the pressures of maintaining an image, especially in high-status situations, and its simple, to-the-point narration and comedy. I’m not sure I would watch it again because of how predictable it can be but it didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth by any means.
For that reason What Did I Mess? gets 3/5 stars in my book.