D: Shamim Sarif / 79m
Cast: Lisa Ray, Sheetal Sheth, Antonia Frering, Dalip Tahil, Nina Wadia, Ernest Ignatius, Siddiqua Akhtar, Amber Rose Revah, Anya Lahiri, Kimberly Jaraj, Sam Vicenti, Rez Kempton, Darwin Shaw
The daughter of wealthy Christian Palestinians (Frering, Tahil), Tala (Ray) is preparing to get married. Hani (Shaw) is a handsome young businessman, and her fourth fiancé. The wedding is due to take place in Jordan, but Tala lives and works in London. There she meets Leyla (Sheth), the girlfriend of Ali (Kempton), one of Tala’s old college friends. There’s an instant attraction between the two, and soon they are finding excuses to spend time together. A trip to Oxford with one of Tala’s sisters, Lamia (Lahiri), leads to Leyla and Tala sleeping together. But where this emboldens Leyla to acknowledge and embrace her sexuality, Tala cites her family and cultural traditions as reasons why she can’t commit to a relationship with Leyla, and this causes a wedge between them. They go their separate ways, with Tala preparing to enter into a marriage that isn’t what she wants, and Leyla choosing to make a life-changing decision. Time passes, but though both women retain their feelings for each other, it takes one more life-changing decision to allow them the chance of being happy together…
A lighter, less dramatic (and contemporary) version of Sarif’s previous movie, The World Unseen, I Can’t Think Straight is also another adaptation by Sarif of one of her novels. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale where Leyla represents Sarif, and reunites Ray and Sheth in similar roles from The World Unseen. It’s a breezy effort, more concerned with applying humour to events than focusing on the drama, and making the romance between Tala and Leyla more predictable. It’s a movie where the outcome can be guessed within the first ten minutes, and where each character fits neatly into a prescribed stereotype, particularly both sets of parents, with the mothers portrayed as controlling, and resistant to truly supporting their daughters’ happiness, while the fathers are entirely accepting and sympathetic. With the majority of the characters being so agreeable, Sarif has to work hard to make Tala and Leyla’s burgeoning relationship the source of any conflict. And when she does, the same issue that hampers the script elsewhere also comes to the fore: it’s all too inevitable to be completely convincing.
Along the way we’re treated to picture postcard shots of London and Oxford, a battery of supporting characters who are all painted in broad brush strokes, and a polo match where Tala’s hair and make up are immaculate – after she’s taken part (the script does acknowledge this, but even so…). But what really doesn’t help is the dialogue. Clunky and awkward, and often proving the better of the cast – including Ray and Sheth – Sarif and co-screenwriter Kelly Moss have concocted some truly cringeworthy lines that call attention to themselves when they’re uttered. It’s not helpful either that the script is peppered with lumbering references to the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and Tala’s mother voices as many anti-Semitic remarks as she can manage in any given scene. Thankfully, Ray and Sheth manage to make more of Tala and Leyla than is on the page, though the rest of the performances remain perfunctory throughout. As that commonplace conundrum, the difficult second movie, I Can’t Think Straight lacks the persuasiveness and focus of Sarif’s first movie, and suffers accordingly. It’s lightweight and somewhat superficial, and unsure if it’s a rom-com or a rom-dram. In the end it’s an ungainly combination of the two, and though there are occasional moments where the script does work, there aren’t enough of them to make this anything more than disappointing.
Rating: 4/10 – a movie that betrays its low budget production values, and gives the impression its script needed more of a polish, I Can’t Think Straight tells its lesbian love story like it was a meringue, i.e. light and insubstantial; Sarif does her own novel a minimum of justice, and there’s a complacency to the material that hampers it further, making this something of a curio and nothing more.