Review of “I Can’t Think Straight”

All photos courtesy: Regent Releasing

I Can’t Think Straight comes hot on the heels of novelist-turned-writer/director
Shamim Sarif’s movie The World Unseen, which recently enjoyed
a great deal of success on the queer festival circuit.

A bit of background is necessary before we delve into the plot.

While I Can’t Think Straight is just now being released, it was actually Sarif’s first foray into directing a motion picture. The World Unseen was shown first, but it was made after I Can’t
Think Straight
— and while both films center around similar themes (such as
family pressure in complex, traditional cultures), and both feature the talents
of actresses Lisa Ray and Sheetal Sheth, they have a few key differences,
mainly in setting and scripting.

Unseen was a lovingly crafted period piece, adapted by Sarif’s own
novel of the same name, while Straight
is a louder, rougher picture, set in modern London amid the Indian-British and Middle-Eastern communities.

I Can’t Think Straight centers on the relationship between the
rich, headstrong Tala, a Jordanian woman and terminal engagement-breaker who
faces extreme pressure to marry a well-off Middle-Eastern man, and Leyla, a talented
but introspective Indian-British woman who faces similar pressure at home.

Sheetal Sheth as “Leyla”

They meet
through Ali (Rez Kempton), a young man Leyla dates casually (though her mother
would like to hear wedding bells), and immediately hit it off, beginning a
vibrant friendship that soon develops into something much more.

Warning: some spoilers (but the ending isn’t spoiled)

As their
relationship grows more romantic, Tala bristles at the thought of breaking off
her engagement and upsetting her very traditional parents. Thus, the central
conflict is set up — and both characters respond differently. Leyla, who was
unsure of her sexuality until she met Tala, takes it upon herself to live out
and proud, while Tala is more fearful.

Eventually, it’s
clear that their love affair will reach a breaking point.

While the film has a lot going for it, the script is surprisingly paint-by-the-numbers. Viewers familiar with lesbian films will be able to call the ending (and all major points of conflict) long before the credits roll. Also surprising is the number of cringe-worthy lines Ray and Seth utter, since Sarif is clearly a talented writer.

But both actresses rise well above the material, and put in lovely, nuanced performances. Their characters
show an enormous amount of emotional growth from their first, tentative steps toward romance to the heartbreaking fights they endure later on.

Sheth makes
Leyla’s shyness and confusion believable as those qualities slowly melt away
into her confidant later state, and Ray has an expert touch making the usually
headstrong Tala so fragile and human when faced with matters of family and her
own sexuality.

Lisa Ray as “Tala”

Anyone who has ever had to come out to a traditional family will
instantly sympathize.