i can't think straight
Directed: Shamim Sarif
Written: Shamim Sarif & Kelly Moss
If I had to sum up I Can’t think Straight in one word, it would be incomplete. I don’t mean that the ending is missing, I just mean that it goes to a certain point with everything – characters, setting, dialogue, acting, writing, whatever – then stops about two thirds of the way there. It never quite gets there. It fails to make an impact because it doesn’t follow through in the way that a good film needs to.
The story is about two women from very different, yet culturally interesting, worlds, a theme that writer/director Shamim Sarif explored with the same actresses in The World Unseen. Tala is the spoiled daughter of a wealthy Jordanian businessman who is having difficulty actually going through with marrying anyone (she has had four fiances), and Leyla is the eldest daughter in a middle-class English/Indian clan who sits alone in her room with the obligatory kd lang CDs and Sarah Waters novels and dreams of being a writer.
Leyla is dating the very sweet but obviously incompatible Ali. When Ali introduces the two women, sparks fly, but not initially in a good way. Leyla finds Tala intriguing but aggressively self-interested, and it is unclear that Tala thinks about Leyla at all. They are thrown together through various social events and become friends, and finally lovers.
What unfolds is a pretty standard coming-out-angsty storyline with a fairly predictable rom-com happy-ending, complete with yet another engagement break-off for Tala, and absolutely no real feeling of conflict. One would expect some fireworks from a film that claims to be exploring coming out within two very strict, very traditional cultures. It lacks oomph, and feeling, and a real hook, which I think you really need in smaller independent films because you’re asking the audience to ignore your lack of budget for sets and professional actors and concentrate on the story you're trying to tell. If it just isn’t there, you have a problem.
The tone was completely off. Normally you’d have a dramatic film that has comedic undertones to lighten it. Or, you’d have a romantic comedy with drama to give it depth. Or you’d have a black comedy which tries to satirise the drama. Or you’d have… this film, which is none of the above. It falls flat because it has no coherence, no consistency of tone. I did find some moments funny, but none of the drama worked for me, so I found myself wishing Sarif had just pushed the comedy outright, and had the actresses play that for all they were worth. At the very least we could have had a good laugh.
But the jokes here weren’t funny enough, the lovelorn women not lovelorn enough, the conflict not conflicting enough…It’s a bit of a yawn. The first twenty minutes should have been a fascinating glimpse of what it’s like to be a spoilt rich kid in a traditional Jordanian household, or a young woman struggling with her identity in a strict Indian household. Nothing.
Upsides? I will freely and unashamedly admit that both these actresses are stunning and a pleasure to watch. I liked Tala, her attitude and her energy. I liked the Oxford sequence where the two become lovers, the film slowed down a bit and played a little with the scenary, going for the subtle glances and gradually building sexual tension rather than whacking us over the head with seduction dialogue. Making Tala a woman who has slept with women in the past but denied their meaning for her was an interesting twist. I would have enjoyed seeing that explored. Little gems that, added up, unfortunately did not constitute enough for a great movie.
Shamim Sarif is obviously a talent to watch for the future, but I think she needs to work on her scripts. I really wanted this to work - if you watch the trailer it makes you excited to see it, but it just doesn't. This has some good moments, and the last twenty minutes romp along towards a sweet conclusion that made the romantic in me smile, but... I’m looking forward to Sarif making a film that really hits the mark.