Elevate Difference

I Can’t Think Straight

It’s always a bit tricky to adapt one’s real life experiences to the big screen, but that’s what award-winning filmmaker Shamim Sarif has done in I Can’t Think Straight. Based in London, the film depicts the budding romance between Leyla, an Indian Muslim woman raised in the UK, and Tala, an Arab Christian Palestinian woman who was brought up in a very wealthy family in Jordan. There are several challenges conspiring to keep the two apart such as racial, religious, and cultural discrimination, but the one central struggle in the film is overcoming the families’ homophobic bias.

Both Leyla’s and Tala’s cultural traditions are portrayed as not simply privileging heterosexual couplings, but forcefully pushing marriage to men on daughters. Tala is on her fourth engagement, a situation that brings much embarrassment to the family. She is set to marry Hani, a wealthy and handsome man with no protruding flaw, but whom she does not love passionately. Leyla and her boyfriend Ali are being pressured by Leyla’s mother to take their relationship to the next level, but her sister correctly guesses the reason for Leyla’s reticence. Despite the unexplained insistence that coming out to their families would be impossible, it is the infatuation of the women’s mothers in particular to be the gatekeepers of cultural and religious authenticity. Their siblings, friends, and fathers, however, are proud of Tala and Leyla’s feisty personalities and sufficiently sympathetic to their “Western” desires.

A typical romantic comedy, the myriad issues brought up in the film are never delved into with any amount of depth. More than lesbianism itself, the Israeli-Palestianian conflict receives the most attention in the film’s dialogue, which features several conversations involving anti-Semitism and support of suicide bombings that are, of course, tempered with standard liberal rebuttal. Feminist sentiment abounds as well with moments like Tala shoving food into her mouth after her mother’s reprimand that if she continues to eat she won’t being skinny enough to fit into her wedding dress. If not taken too seriously, I Can’t Think Straight is a fun, fast-paced, slightly campy, B-movie romp about self-determination and laying claim to one’s desires.

Originally published in Bitch Magazine

Written by: Mandy Van Deven, August 6th 2010