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SIGNATURE MOVE (2017) review

November 28, 2017

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written by: Lisa Donato and Fawzia Mirza
produced by: Brian Hieggelke, Fawzia Mirza and Eugene Park
directed by: Jennifer Reeder
rated: unrated
runtime: 80 min.
U.S. release date: March 11, 2017 (SXSW), September 29, 2017 – October 5, 2017 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL) and November 28, 2017 (Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival, Des Plaines, IL)

 

Here’s an independent film that stands out simply on its premise – Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) is a thirty-something Pakistani, Muslim, lesbian immigration lawyer living in Chicago who begins a new romance with Alma (Sari Sanchez), a confident and vivacious Mexican-American woman. It sounds like a kitchen sink attempt at a rom-com or a pitch for a sitcom, but director Jennifer Reeder’s first feature-length film doesn’t rely on predictability (although it does include some recognizable conventions) nor does it touch on characters that can typically be seen on screen. Not only do we see lesbian protagonists here, but South Asians and Mexicans are represented as well, but perhaps the coolest unique aspect that “Signature Move” offers is that there is basically one male role, the rest of the film is populated with females in front of and behind the camera. That’s not only something new and unique, it should be a primary reason to see “Signature Move”. 

Reeder’s film, which was co-written by Fawzia and Lisa Donato, is the first project of New City’s (the print and digital cultural magazine company operating in Chicago and São Paulo) film production effort called Chicago Film Project, is set in modern-day Chicago and is free from the typical tourist shots of Buckingham Fountain or Daley Plaza that plagues so many movies set in the Windy City. That’s an immediate welcome sign as the film opens, as we’re shown the vibrant neighborhood colors of what many call “Little India”, an area up-and-down Devon Ave. home to Indian/Pakistani markets, restaurants and retailers. Reeder establishes an environment that feels lived-in and real, a Chicago for those who reside in its distinctive and culturally rich neighborhoods, instead of the greatest hits tour we typically see depicted.

 

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Zaynab’s recently-widowed mother, Parveen (Shabana Azmi), lives with her and can be found spending hours at home watching Pakastani soap operas and peering out their front window through binoculars looking for an appropriate husband for her only daughter.  That last detail indicates how close Zaynab and her mother are, considering Parveen does not know her daughter is a lesbian. Zaynab loves her mother and looks after her, but feels the truth will be too much for her mother to bear. Parveen would be even more surprised if she were to learn that Zaynab has recently started taking wrestling lessons from a former star luchadora (am intense Charin Alvarez), as a form of payment for legal services.

Life gets even more complicated when a passionate one-night stand with Alma throws Zaynab for a loop. She is surprised by and attracted to the confidence and forwardness Alma has with her sexuality. She sees that Alma is her opposite in that sense and as she unexpectedly gets to know her more, the reticent Zaynab has a hard time keeping her life a secret from her mother, not to mention that difficulty she has in being completely open with Alma. There’s also the close relationship Alma has with her mother, Rosa (Charin Alvarez), herself a former professional Luchadora, something Zaynab finds fascinating. yet there’s the feeling that she can’t relate to the closeness they have. As her relationship with Alma deepens, Zaynab must come to terms with her reluctance to include her mother in her life, while addressing Alma’s frustration with her lack of honesty and openness.

 

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It’s clear there’s a lot going on in “Signature Move” and at times, the balancing act of the romance, family and wrestling plots, slip away from the screenwriters and Reeder, but the film undoubtedly has some strong characters played by charismatic actresses. Sanchez and Alvarez in particular, have great chemistry and are simply wonderful together. The nuanced performances from Alvarez and Azmi (especially from the internationally famous Azmi, since it seemed like there definitely could’ve been more to Zaynab’s mother) are also memorable, leaving me wanting more from their characters, but alas, “Signature Move” is too quick (a brisk 75 minutes – that’s before the credits) for its own good.

 

“Signature Move” could’ve benefited from less humor, or at least less attempts at humor and a greater reliance on the heartfelt drama on display. If Mirza and Donata could only have trusted in the powerful resonance their story of daughters and mothers has, the film could’ve unlocked an even greater achievement. Be that as it may, it’s still a joy to be introduced to the talent here and I’m left very interested in where to find them next.

“Signature Move” has been on a festival circuit tour since it premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW) back in March and it opened the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival this afternoon and, from what I’ve heard, look for it come show up on Netflix very soon.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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