From Kissing Jessica Stein to Get Real, coming-out-of-the-closet films have usually taken the risky road of the dreaded romantic comedy. Mix lightweight humor with fluid sexualities and the medicine goes down nice and easy with the more conservative, sexually timid moviegoer. The problem with this sort of approach is that it allows stereotypes to run amok and interesting dialog to take a back seat to cringe-worthy lines and slapstick humor.
Or perhaps I’m just jaded and can’t bring myself to ever truly enjoy a romantic comedy. Maybe a healthy, happy relationship is what I need to find love humorous. But I tend to think “happily in love” is a suspicious front. Happy or not, my love life wouldn’t change the fact that Shamim Sarif’s I Can’t Think Straight is one of my contenders for worst film of the year, sandwiched right in between The Happening and Over Her Dead Body (yeah, I saw it). Messy, predictable, embarrassingly unfunny, I Can’t Think Straight is a disaster.
The film centers on Tala (Lisa Ray), a London-based Jordanian of Palestinian origin, and Leyla (Sheetal Sheth), a British woman with an Indian background. The two meet, wrestle with desire for one another, fall into bed, go their separate ways, and come back for the reunion fuck at the end. Blah blah blah. It’s the same story, the same situation as ever, except with lesbians from different cultural backgrounds. Sarif tries to incorporate interesting elements by examining homophobia in Muslim families and the roles culture and family can play in one’s search for a sexual identity, but the end result is still nothing more than a hackneyed bunch of characters. Tala’s mother is overbearing, hates Jews, smokes a lot, disapproves of her daughter’s every word, and despises Tala (an interesting storyline the director chooses to neglect). Leyla’s mother cooks Indian food in the kitchen all day, moaning and groaning about her children’s lack of respect for Indian culture. The fathers have strange, dominating relationships with their daughters, suggesting that even lesbians suffer from Electra complexes. (Puh-lease!) Each family member is annoying in his or her own right, but the two mothers come off as especially racist and homophobic. Families are more complicated than these broad strokes would have us believe, and so is sexuality.
And it’s not only the one-dimensionality of the family, but also the troubling lack of complexity in Tala and Leyla's characters that creates a deeply flawed film. The two characters are so underdeveloped that their looks take precedence over who they are as people (especially unfortunate for a movie that was produced almost entirely by women). The camera spends gobs of time lingering over Tala’s heaving bosom, zooming into Leyla’s wide, sultry eyes — which have got to be enhanced via colored contact lenses — and focusing on her Angelina Jolie-sized lips. Both women are stunning, yeah, but that’s it? I know Tala is rich and Leyla is a writer. That’s all. The first girl I fell in love with tasted like Jolly Ranchers, wore men’s clothing from J. Crew, and liked ball-gags. But there's no place for idiosyncrasies like these in I Can’t Think Straight, so the audience is left wondering why these two women have fallen in love. What do they have in common besides smooth skin, gaping mouths, wild, mocha-colored hair, and curve-hugging dresses?
Call it the L Word curse: Lipstick lesbians have become the predominant manifestation of female queer identity in movies and television these days, and female directors and writers are actually behind this depiction of lesbianism-meets-Sex and the City. Is this the post-feminist — a label I have serious issues with — movement in queer film and television? Or is it simply my fault for assuming a gay film produced by women should embody some feminist values? Perhaps that's it. Not all lesbians are feminists. But no amount of lipstick is going to make I Can’t Think Straight a better film.