Rating: (3 out of 5) Sunday, 10/18/2009, 2:30 PM Feature presentation, $10 at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts
PRESENTING LIKE the love child of a quality offering from Film4 Productions and one of the edgier romantic comedies out of Hollywood, director Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t Think Straight has serious cross-over potential. Its appeal begins with a set of ethnic characters that happen to be extremely wealthy and Westernized — always a plus with your regular Joe and Josephine — and continues with Sarif’s talent for blending the unfamiliar into the readily accessible parameters of commercial entertainment. This may be the story of two lesbian lovers reared in the religions and cultures of far away lands, but the movie looks and acts like a vehicle for Debra Messing.
If that sounds like criticism, it is not. For although this is a mainstream-style film, it is still better than the usual canned offerings on minorities, whether sexual or ethnic. Even more to the point: With its well-painted exotic locales, fancy clothes and regular doses of silly humor, it is girls-night-in entertaining, even with a few areas in need of firmer editing. There should always be room for a romantic comedy offering a bit of glamour and wit.
Of course, being light-hearted fare, the star-crossed lovers never have to go to any great lengths to be together — they aren’t trapped within the borders of Jordan, for example — but the obstacles they do confront, particularly disapproving family members, are readily accessible to virtually any audience. And the families are, in many ways, what make this film. It is a trio of women, Antonia Frering, Siddiqua Akhtar and Nina Wadia, as two mothers and a housekeeper, respectively, who give us the best giggles of the piece and ultimately its’ flavor and charm. Sarif knows exactly how to deliver a comedy confection especially when competing ethnicities are part of the fun. And staying true to her own novel on which the film is based, she declines to inject the kind of back-flipping plot devices jammed into every rom-com produced by Hollywood these days.
The lovers themselves, Lisa Ray as the feisty Jordanian-raised Palestinian, Tala, and Sheetal Sheth as the soulful London-dwelling Indian Muslim, Leyla, are an attractive and compelling pair even if Sheth is rather more convincing in her amorous angst. Still, with an eye on the bigger commercial prize, this is lesbian-lite with nothing racier than a few relatively chaste cuddles set to nice music. And yet, there is something sincerely refreshing about any slickly produced movie that doesn’t exploit its women amid an improbable plot.
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