NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, an ineffective tub-thumping hate piece, is based on the true-life ordeal of Betty Mahmoody as chronicled in her bestselling book.
No sooner have Betty (Sally Field) and her Iranian husband Moody (Alfred Molina) and precocious four-year-old daughter Mahtob (Sheila Rosenthal) spent an idyllic afternoon in their lakeside Michigan home, entertaining Betty's grandparents, than it becomes apparent that their life is less than
wholesome. Moody, a doctor, broods over racial slurs he overhears at work and questions regarding his patriotism from Mahtob at home. Pleading with Betty and swearing on the Koran that all will be well, Moody convinces her to accompany him on a two-week visit to his sister, Ameh Bozorg (Mony Rey),
and her family in Tehran.
Upon arriving in Tehran, Betty is put off by the noise, the congestion, the loud relatives and the strangeness of the culture. More than that, she's reluctant to wear the traditional Islamic garb worn by Iranian women, finally giving in after being informed that she'll be arrested if she doesn't
comply. As the visit continues, Moody becomes increasingly quick tempered and surprises both his wife and daughter on the day that they are scheduled to leave by informing them that the Mahmoody family is going to stay in Iran. Permanently. Betty is adamant about leaving but Moody, eschewing his
American leanings, slaps her down and forces her to stay.
Thus begins a series of harrowing imprisonments and escapes for Betty, as Mahtob finds herself starting school in Iran and learning the Muslim way. Betty finds no help at the Swiss Embassy, since, being married to an Iranian, she automatically becomes an Iranian citizen too, and subject to
Iranian laws regarding women. After being informed that she could leave by applying for a divorce but Moody would retain custody of Mahtob, Betty arranges for a clandestine escape through the mountains to Turkey. Finally, after an arduous journey through mountain passes and windstorms, Mother and
daughter make it into Turkey. Seeing an American flag waving through the trees in Ankara, Betty walks toward it with Mahtob, telling her, "We're home, baby. We're home."
Director Brian Gilbert keeps the action taut and edgy, in the style of Costa-Gavras, and his liberal use of shallow depth-of-field depicts a cramped, oppressive Tehran, where rushing Iranians are framed inside dank telephone poles, ubiquitous photos of Khomeini, and shrill, tinny prayers
constantly blasting from loudspeakers above the masses. The performances are well intentioned and effective. Sally Field carries the film on her emotional, gut-wrenching performance and the viewer feels her horror when she finds herself forced to erase her existence. And, in spite of it all,
Alfred Molina does what he can with his part and manages, despite all odds, to make Moody, if not sympathetic, at least understandable.
But, sadly, NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER is saddled with David W. Rintels's clumsy, obtuse and racist screenplay. It plays like a nightmare visit to the in-laws, filtered through a confused mixture of American Legion and National Organization of Women sensibilities. The film sets itself up as an
anti-Iranian political tract in its opening 20 minutes, contrasting a lush, overabundant United States with a tawdry, primitive Iran, the population bowing to Khomeini, slaughtering animals for sacrifices, and running frantically, shouting like beasts. But nowhere in the film is there any mention
of the political situation in Iran, except for passing references to the overthrow of the Shah. Although the film completed production several months prior to the Persian Gulf conflict, there's no mention of the earlier capture of hostages at the United States embassy.
Instead, Rintels uses this inflammatory flag-waving as a take on women's oppression. Much emphasis is placed on Betty acting like a "good wife" and honoring her husband. Compared to Debra Winger's hands-down capitulation in THE SHELTERING SKY, Sally Field's one-armed struggle amounts to a
document depicting the brutalization of a politically correct modern American woman into a household appliance. In that sense, the film didn't have to take place in Iran at all, but could have occurred in suburban New Jersey.
As Sally Field walks dramatically toward freedom, NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER continues its literal flag-waving. The United States is not real, only an attitude. But has Betty changed in any way? What has she learned from her ordeal? We never know. All that she seems to have discovered is that behind
every "civilized" Iranian lurks a rabid male chauvinist and raving psychopath for Islam. By enlisting jingoism and reducing an entire culture to caricature, NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER defeats any progressive point it may have intended to make.
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER, an ineffective tub-thumping hate piece, is based on the true-life ordeal of Betty Mahmoody as chronicled in her bestselling book. No sooner have Betty (Sally Field) and her Iranian husband Moody (Alfred Molina) and precocious fou… (more)