SXSW 2017: Signature Move
In the post-peak rom-com period, the romantic comedy has become a deconstructed cocktail menu of mix and match potential. The traditional mismatched boy-meets-girl story has migrated to long form television, and studio-based attempts have become the home for heterosexual bromances and friendship stories. With the space left empty, independent movies have been given a playground for creators to explore more off the well worn path themes and possibilities in their rom-coms, and the format is all the better for it.
Signature Move is a touching slice of life in a diverse Chicago neighborhood where Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza), a closeted Lesbian and first generation child of Pakistani immigrants, runs a small law firm focusing on immigration and local issues. Zaynab is easygoing, available for doctors importing poppy for medicinal needs, and a local former pro-wrestler who offers her payment in the form of wrestling lessons. Living with her mother (Shabana Azmi) following the death of her father, Zaynab balances her mother’s traditional wishes for marriage to a man with ‘potential’ and her own desires to be a modern, out woman in the western world. A chance meeting with local bookshop owner Alma (Sari Sanchez), whose mother was the noted Luchador ‘Luna Pellegrossia’, leads to Zaynab exploring the possibilities of a real relationship for the first time in her life, and a looming wrestling match that has her embracing her own potential.
Signature Move is brought to life by a trio of beautiful performances, and the heart and soul of it’s director, Jennifer Reeder. Fawzia Mirza’s penchant for deadpan stares is matched by her moments of anxiety as Zaynab and Alma’s relationship slowly unveils itself publicly and her frustrations with her mother’s smothering presence. Shabana Azmi’s Praveen, soap opera obsessed and a little scared of the world outside, is an excellent reflection of the changing nature of parent-child relationships as the paradigms in the relationship shift with age. And Sari Sanchez’s Alma is a beckoning light to Zaynab’s dark world, a headstrong woman swept up in a new relationship that is forcing her to change her own perceptions of what an out and open identity is.
Reeder, long a chronicler of feminist culture and social justice movements, builds a wonderful world for the women of the story, casting Lucha Libre wrestling as the new physical activity du jour and the heart of the community. Signature Move is a fusion burrito of all that things that already make America great - the immigrant experience, diverse neighborhoods, being able to love who you love, businesses ran by women. It lacks the explicit political messaging other movies of the coming Trump-era will, but its presence alone is a friendly reminder of many of the great things that ‘the pursuit of happiness’ stands for.