Not quite a coming of age drama and not quite a coming out story, director Jennifer Reeder’s refreshingly understated comedy-drama Signature Move succeeds at frequently subverting expectations of its central culture clash romance. Co-writer Fawzia Mirza stars as Zaynab, a thirty-something Pakistani Muslim still living at home with her mother, with whom she has a complicated (but far from cold) relationship with. In a recent film like The Big Sick, for example, the religion of the parental character acts as a narrative barrier stopping them from accepting their child’s romantic happiness – a lazy narrative direction Signature Move avoids. It feels more richly autobiographical, focusing on the specifics of relationships both familial and romantic, and having something quietly profound to say about both.
Zaynab’s mother stays at home all day watching Pakistani soap operas on TV, and using the rest of her free time staring out the window for a potential husband for her daughter. While not embarrassed about her identity, Zaynab keeps her own sexual identity hidden from her mother – meeting cute with Alma (Sari Sanchez), a Mexican woman with a family background in the wrestling community. Despite the religious conservatism associated with Mexican culture, Alma has been accepted for who she is with open arms by her family- something that puts her at odds with Zaynab’s comparative secrecy when it comes to revealing her true identity to her mother.
Signature Move feels like a thoroughly modern, progressive romantic story for one simple reason. It’s aware of the prejudice afforded to LGBT people and frequently acknowledges that said prejudice exists – yet populates the story itself with characters who don’t hold any backward views. Instead of being a thematically dense film dealing with homophobia in religion and different cultures, director Jennifer Reeder displays a winning lightness of touch that puts the dilemmas of the characters first, and any baggage from their surrounding cultures a very distant second.
The film is also, to a certain extent, about embracing our relationships without distraction. Zaynab’s mother spends too much time watching soap operas that depict idealised versions of love to notice her own daughter’s romantic desires. When the penny finally does drop, her desire for her daughter to be happy sees her instantly throwing herself away from the TV set and back in to the real world to rekindle her parental duties. This isn’t specific to the culture of the characters, where homosexuality is considered a taboo to be sensitively dealt with – this is a universally human theme, that will likely resonate strongly with any mothers watching the movie.
Most of all, Signature Move is just a really charming romantic drama. Fawzia Mirza does an excellent job of depicting her character’s social awkwardness, contrasting perfectly with Sari Sanchez as the comparatively feisty Alma. They may be from different cultures, but this never becomes a lazy dramatic obstacle- another reason why the film feels refreshing, and more relevant than several other romantic dramas that clumsily try to tackle “culture-clash” relationships head-on.
Signature Move is a sweet, uncynical romantic drama that feels thoroughly contemporary largely because it isn’t trying to be. Possessing more charm by the bucket load than several other “meet cute” narratives of recent memory, it’s a low key delight well worth seeking out.
All pictures reproduced courtesy of Jennifer Reeder