The following review is coverage for the Twin Cities Film Fest.
Romantic comedies are often spoken of with derision, and, through a long run of terrible films, the genre has earned this reputation. Because of that, any movie that wants to fit into the category and be enjoyable must shed the stereotypes and clichés so often present in rom-coms. Signature Move does this by going beyond the traditional narratives and telling a story about family and culture as well.
Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza) is a Pakistani lawyer who specializes in immigration issues, and when one of her clients offers to pay in professional wrestling lessons Zaynab is intrigued. She finds she enjoys it much more than initially expected and throughout the film we watch her improve in short scenes between her and the trainer. The film quickly reveals that Parveen (Shabana Azmi), Zaynab’s recently widowed mother, has moved in with her after her husband died, and they are still adjusting to each other. Parveen spends most of her time watching Pakistani soap operas and the street outside through binoculars as she hunts for a husband for Zaynab. The two women have an awkward relationship, and it is clear from the beginning that Zaynab keeps most of her life a secret from her traditional mother.
When Zaynab goes to a local bar one night to escape her mother’s presence, she has a meet-cute with Alma (Sari Sanchez), a Mexican woman whose own mother used to be a luchadora. They hit it off right away and despite both agreeing that their relationship is nothing more than fun, they find themselves falling in love. As Zaynab spends more time out of the house with Alma, her relationship with her mother becomes even more strained. Parveen tries to understand where her daughter is going so often, but Zaynab refuses to tell any more than vague excuses. Before long Zaynab realizes that she will have to find a way to reconcile the two parts of her life and that doing so will probably require sharing some hard truths.
Main actress Fawzia Mirza wrote Signature Move along with Lisa Donato, and some of her own struggles are represented in the film. She is wonderful as Zaynab, and her playful style with the character makes the comedic material shine. Veteran Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi gives a beautifully understated performance. Many of her scenes show her alone and have very little dialogue, but despite that, every one of them is rich with emotion and story. Sari Sanchez is charming as the bubbly and fiercely individualistic Alma, as her character comes close to the dreaded Manic Pixie Dream Girl only to smash the concept into pieces by the end of the film. The scenes that the three women share are some of the best; their characters’ personalities play off each other in unexpected ways that are a delight to watch.
Signature Move is unabashedly a romantic comedy that still manages to include serious content, albeit in a lighthearted way. Zaynab and Parveen have very different lives, and the two women are desperate to bridge the gap, but neither knows how to make the first move. Resolving this distance in their relationship forms the main conflict of the film, but the story also touches on cultural differences and how those differences affect the process of coming out and living your most authentic life. It does this with a subtle skill and compassion that makes the film more powerful for its simplicity.