I am starting at the end, as this was the closing night film. This has been one of those festivals which I attended on several days but didn't actually see many films on-site, and so I shall be using the online service to review titles in the coming days. This one I did catch, however, as it was my must-see of the festival.
So, to Signature Move, billed as the latest from director Jennifer Reeder. And indeed she is the director, but the authorship of the film lies more with star Fawzia Mirza, as she co-wrote it and it draws on some of her experiences as a Pakistani-American woman in love with a Mexican-American woman. Mirza, who delivered a hilarious Q&A with Reeder at the early screening on Sunday, explained that the film was inspired by her interactions with her ex-girlfriend. Whether this is the co-writer Lisa Donato (absent) or not I am not sure. But, it is a timely film, given the incredibly rancorous debates over US immigration policy and the place of hyphenate Americans at present. Throw in the lesbian angle and this must rate as Donald Trump's worst nightmare.
But, the heck with him, because this is a very, very funny film. As Zaynab buzzes around Chicago on her motorbike, in her capacity as an immigration lawyer, she meets Alma at a bar and they get extremely drunk and spend the night together. But, Zaynab is not quite as together as she makes out, and she keeps the relationship secret from her mother (Shabana Azmi), while trying to work out how serious Alma is about the two of them. Oh, and while also training to be a lucha libre competitor. Audrey Francis is a scream as the deadpan wrestling coach.
There is so much to recommend this film, from Mirza's throwaway lines to the attention to location and culture, it seems a bit churlish to criticise, but I really didn't feel the mother's story was handled very well. In contrast to the quickfire pacing of Alma and Zaynab's scenes, the camera tended to settle on Parveen and linger there for way longer than seemed necessary. As most of her interactions were with her unseen soap operas, I found these scenes dragged badly, weighing the film down. Having cast a legendary actor in the role, possibly the filmmakers felt they needed to give her ample screentime, but it really unbalanced the film. Interestingly, filming Ms. Azmi proved a challenge to Reeder, who described the experience vividly as trying to approach a silver-backed gorilla without making eye contact--Ms. Azmi would not read the lines as written and basically directed herself. Well, that's showbiz.
Reeder and Mirza exhibited such chemistry on-stage, it really enlivened the occasion and I do hope they collaborate again some time. Thanking the audience for embracing "our little lumpy lesbian film", Reeder and Mirza showered lucky recipients with film merch, spreading the love from Chicago to London.