i can't think straight


Directed by: Shamim Sarif

Written by: Shamim Sarif & Kelly Moss

The best word I can think of, if I had to sum up I Can’t think Straight in one word, is 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 centres around 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 as one would expect, 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 then 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, a mischievous setup by an interfering younger sister for Leyla, and absolutely no real feeling of conflict, despite the fact that 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 and the mood you are attempting to evoke. If it just isn’t there, you have a real problem.

Another issue I had was with the tone of the film. 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 to hold it up, 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. For instance, what makes something like Imagine Me and You work despite dire dialogue and a bland story (putting aside the comparatively massive budget and professional actors), is that it knows what it is, revels in it, and it never pretends to be anything else.

But the jokes here weren’t funny enough, the lovelorn women not lovelorn enough, the conflict not conflicting enough… I’m sure you’re getting my point by now. It’s a bit of a yawn, particularly in the first twenty minutes, which should by rights 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. The mothers of both households, while often given decent one-liners, were complete caricatures. The servant who spends the entire film trying to get the evil Jordanian mother to drink from a cup she has spat in provides a few laughs, but she smells of what she is, obvious comic relief. She would have fit far better into an ensemble all dedicated to delivering the same level of farce.

The thinks I liked? I will freely and unashamedly admit that both these actresses are stunning and a pleasure to watch. I liked the character of Tala, her attitude and her energy. I like Leyla's incorrigible younger sister, and the "I Can't Think Straight" t-shirt gag going completely over her conservative mother's head might have been funny if it had not also been the name of the film. I liked the sequence in Oxford where the two women first 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 approach 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 and her life was an interesting twist in her character. I would have enjoyed seeing that explored a bit more. 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 a little longer before going into production to ensure she knows exactly what she’s trying to film. For an indie feature this has some good moments, and the last twenty minutes romps along towards a very sweet conclusion that will make dedicated romantics smile, but... I’m looking forward to Sarif making a film that really hits the mark with an interesting subject. Fifteen years ago when coming out was still an interesting movie storyline it might have worked better, but nowadays I know I need a bit more. The cultural problems were downplayed, so what was left here to really get excited about?

Got a comment? Write to me at nancyamazon@gmail.com



Last modified: 8 January 2010