Scanning the films debuting at SXSW this year, my attention was immediately peaked by a film about a Muslim, Lesbian, Luchadora. By chance, I got to meet the co-writers on separate occasions before their screening. Both were charming and I was very excited to see their work. So, when the fire alarm went off right before we were seated, I didn’t leave. Usually, when I go into a film hoping to like it, I don’t. This time I was not disappointed.
Director: Jennifer Reeder
Written by: Fawzia Mirza and Lisa Donato
Jennifer Reeder’s first full-length feature highlights cultural differences with a comedic grace that had me laughing out loud more than any blockbuster comedy that I have seen in years. The soundtrack (including Pakistani, Spanish, and American songs) was a perfect accompaniment to the action on the screen. The pacing of film, from the slow build to climax, keeps you involved with the characters and emotionally invested in the outcome.
Set in the Pakistani neighborhood in Chicago, the film opens following our lead Zaynab (Mirza) in her element draped in the traditional music that brought me right back to the part of the city I used to drive through often. The relationship with her very traditional mother, played superbly by Shabana Azmi, is defined quickly. After a chance encounter and one night stand with Latina Alma, Zaynab finds herself in unfamiliar territory, falling in love. Alma, on the other hand, does not get emotionally involved with her lovers. She collects them as trophies, just like the driver’s licenses she steals from each encounter. Zaynab keeps the relationship and her orientation from her mother, while Alma is completely open with her family and is widely accepted.
This difference strain the relationship to the point where it appears to be over when Alma is introduced to Zaynab’s mother as a friend. While the theme of one person comfortable with being “out” and the other hiding the fact from their family is not newly explored in this film, it is this combined with the exploration of culture differences that keeps it fresh. When under the microscope, we can see that no matter if a family speaks Urdu or Spanish, the similarity lies in the fact that a parent’s love of their children is universal.
Early in the film, Zaynab takes wrestling lessons from a client in lieu of payment. As Zaynab and Alma’s relationship grows, we learn that Alma’s mother was a Luchadora before becoming pregnant. Alma’s mother’s Luchadora alias, “Luna Peligroso,” was known for her signature move. Zaynab’s inability to find her own move reflects the fact that she is struggling to find her own identity. This plot point leads up to the “Rocky” style match at the climax of the film.
I’ll leave the outcome in suspense as not to spoil a movie you should see. Kudos to the entire cast and crew for creating an entertaining and touching story.