Limbo (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah, Kenneth Collard, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kais Nashef

Director: Ben Sharrock

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: R for Occasionally Angry Language

Release Date: April 30, 2021 (Theaters)

Limbo is like Napoleon Dynamite, but if it were about refugees on a remote Scottish island instead of high schoolers in Idaho, and if the Pedro character were the lead and the Napoleon character his wacky roommate. Both feature oodles of quirky cinematography of patient wide shots. Both have a charmingly contemplative spirit. Both have their hearts in the fringes of society. Both include awkward classroom scenes. And both feature a climactic musical sequence: where once Napoleon boogied down to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat,” Limbo‘s Omar strums out a triumphant performance on his grandfather’s oud.

Writer-director Ben Sharrock is fully attuned to the light surrealism of an existence in which so much of your day-to-day life is beyond your control. Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a little hard to read, but it seems like he’s happy to have escaped the strife of his native Syria. And while he puts on a stoic face, he’s clearly yearning for something more permanent. He lives in a mostly unfurnished house with three fellow refugee roommates, and the rest of his routine is just as starkly unfurnished. He spends much of his time attending cultural assimilation classes that cover everything from English grammar to role-playing scenarios for sexual harassment awareness. Every few days, he calls his parents via a payphone on the side of an empty road. And when he goes grocery shopping, he appears to be the only customer, and all he hopes to find is his beloved sumac spice.

Omar’s refugee experience could be a whole hell of a lot worse, but his melancholy predicament makes you hope that he can improve it by taking some small measure of control wherever he can. So when he asks the shopkeeper about the sumac and it eventually shows up, we feel that victory. And when he reaches out to his estranged brother, it cuts even deeper. And when he finally picks up his oud after betraying no interest in it for most of the time we spend with him, it’s cause for doing cartwheels in the aisle. I can’t speak for everyone else who’s seen Limbo, but I know that I couldn’t help but air-oud to that performance.

Limbo is Recommended If You Like: The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Wes Anderson symmetry, Cliff-filled seaside isles

Grade: 4 out of 5 Apricots