Sapphic Cinema: “I Can’t Think Straight”

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True story: Until I started writing for this website, I didn’t know that there was anyone on earth who didn’t like Shamim Sarif’s semi-autobiographical 2008 romantic comedy I Can’t Think Straight. I just thought it was compulsory, like taxes or singing “Happy Birthday,” and it wasn’t until I read a few comments lambasting it that I realized it was possible to watch this love story with a critical eye. And, frankly, I’m still not sure it’s a good idea, because why would you want to deprive yourself the sugar-coated joy of this movie? I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would.

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So, first up we’ve got Leyla, the Muslim aspiring writer living in Britain with her family. Sheetal Sheth’s hair is the color of the richest soil on earth and she probably smells like rain and her acting method is to look at you and make you feel whatever she wants. She is a perfect human woman.

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Leyla belongs to a moderately wealthy family, including her indulgent father, busybody mother, and rad sister who sees her own heterosexuality as a shameful moral failing. It hasn’t occurred to any of them that Leyla might be gay because she is dating Ali, the most charmingly harmless man on the planet. (Lesbian movies have only two ways of treating their male characters: either they are misogynistic brutes to be destroyed for the cause of liberty, or they are sweet, simple creatures whose hearts we must regretfully break. This film goes hard with the latter option.) Leyla is writing a novel which is the same as the one Shamim Sarif wrote in real life, because Sheetal is Shamim’s movie self.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the world, we meet Tala, the daughter of an obscenely wealthy Christian Arab family in Jordan. Tala is played by Lisa Ray, whose eyes are made out of fucking sunshine. The sound of her voice has the power to heal wounds. She is a perfect human woman. (This may be the only lesbian movie in which I am equally and painfully attracted to both the leads.)

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Tala’s family never suspects that she might be gay, even though she has been engaged to 7000 different men and broken off all her engagements the night before the wedding to go hang out with her girl friends. Her latest fiancé is Hani, who is a man made out of turkey legs and, apparently, does not recognize that once a woman has stranded 6,999 men at the altar, there starts to be a bit of a pattern.

The rest of her family consists of her mother, who is fabulously evil, her lame sister who likes colors, her rad sister who likes gay guys and Jews, her indulgent father, and the family maid. The maid has virtually no lines, but there is a pretty substantial subplot concerning her compulsive need to spit in Tala’s mother’s tea.

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