Even with such a strong premise to build off of, Signature Move was pretty weak. Jennifer Reeder directed this 2017 romantic comedy about identity in both culture and sexuality. Despite the incredibly interesting logline, the awkward pacing and inconsistent tone kept it from reaching its potential.
Zaynab is a Pakistani Muslim lawyer who takes care of her conservative widowed mother. She struggles with keeping her sexuality a secret from her mother, especially once she starts dating a Mexican woman named Alma. Alma is already out and is very close with her mother, so this creates a schism between the young couple. Also, there is lucha libre wrestling, which I feel like should have been a much more integral part of the film than it was.
I really, really wanted to like this movie. There were some jokes that really made me laugh but most of them just fell flat, not because they were bad jokes, but because the pacing was so strange. It was poor setup. I had a hard time following character motivations because of it as well. I can tell the filmmakers really tried to follow the “show, don’t tell” rule, but having shots linger a full four seconds too long isn’t actually showing us anything.
I found the main characters very charming, but I wish I could have gotten to know them better, on more genuine level than what was presented. I never felt like I was following their motivations or knew what they were thinking or feeling. The characterization was very choppy.
The film seemed to struggle with its tone, looking for that bittersweet comedic romance feeling but never quite getting there. Nothing felt genuine and I was very aware that I was watching a movie the whole time.
The level of care that went into portraying the cultures of these two women was the most enjoyable part of the movie. Moreso than the queer romance even, which is saying something since I am a queer woman. The best part of this movie was watching these two cultures interact, comparing and contrasting them. It is important to note that the director is a white woman and I am also a white woman. However, the woman who plays Zaynab, Fawzia Mirza, is the co-writer and a Pakistani-Canadian. So what may seem realistic and respectful in terms of representation to me is up for debate.
If you took out the entire lucha libre aspect of the film, you’d still have the same basic movie. While it was a very large part of Alma’s mother’s characterization and it was something Zaynab did on occasion, it wasn’t integral to them or their relationship. However, if they would have directed more focus onto the lucha libre portion of the movie, it might have taken away some of the focus on Alma and Zaynab’s personal cultures.
This movie had serious potential but fell short on execution. It almost felt unfinished, like if the filmmakers had just a bit more time or money, they would have a more fully formed product. It does deserve props for offering a queer romance that isn’t based in tragedy, but something sweet and realistic in terms of what queer people of color go through.
Despite this movie being sort of disappointing in it’s execution, I don’t want to dissuade anyone from seeing it. I would love to see more movies like Signature Move come out (haha, get it?), and the only way to do that is to show your support for the genre. And who knows? Maybe this movie would be entirely enjoyable for someone who isn’t as much of a stickler as I am.
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