Monday, March 10, 2014

Shirin in Love: Trying to Avoid a Big Fat Iranian Wedding

The affluent members of southern California’s Iranian-American community like to drink, dance, and party. They are way more fun than an army of Brooklyn hipsters, but parents still have very specific ideas about who their grown children should marry. One disorganized writer develops very different notions of her own in Ramin Niami’s Shirin in Love (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

To be honest, Shirin is more of an aspiring writer, but at least she cranks out book reviews for her overbearing mother Maryam’s lifestyle glossy. She also has trouble holding her liquor—something the sensitive brooder William soon learns first hand, by sheer chance. Having seen her at her sloppiest, he is rather surprised when she turns up in Northern California to interview Rachel Harson, his novelist mom. Both mother and son take a shine to the scatterbrained bombshell, but he is reluctant to admit it. As a further complication, she also happens to have a mother-approved fiancé and he has a mousy long-term girlfriend.

Shirin and William are so obviously head-over-heels, they will do all kinds of negligent things to sabotage their budding relationship. Of course, Shirin’s Mother Dearest is not about to stand by and watch her toss away her engagement to a plastic surgeon. Still, the colorful cast of supporting characters will help keep SIL on a standard rom-com trajectory.

Aside from a benign reference to the old country back-when, writer-director Niami never troubles viewers with dire circumstances of post-Revolutionary Iran, which is fair enough. People have to get on with their lives and Shirin’s family is about as far removed from the Islamist state as you can get. However, lead actress Nazanin Boniadi has evidently seen real life hardships of a different sort. According to Vanity Fair allegations supported by Paul Haggis, she was poorly treated by the Scientology machine when they auditioned her to be a certain actor’s sanctioned squeeze.

Frankly, you have to question his taste. SIL is pretty conventional stuff, but Boniadi just lights up the screen. On paper, her character’s persistent ditziness would look potentially tiresome, but she plays her with real warmth and charisma. She also has some nice scenes with Marshall Manesh as her hen-pecked father, Nader. Letterman’s old stand-up crony George Wallace similarly makes his shtick work as Officer Washington, the gruff old softie with literary ambitions. Amy Madigan is relentlessly earthy and likable as the mothering Harson, but not to an irredeemably annoying extent. However, Riley Smith’s William is so dour and lifeless it is hard to fathom the attraction, even if characters keep telling each other how good looking he supposedly is.

SIL is sort of like a Beverly Hills reality show or sitcom, with some heart and a promising star turn from Boniadi. It is all very bright and frothy, but never delves too deeply into the human condition. Recommended mostly for those looking for an inclusive, non-taxing date movie, Shirin in Love opens this Friday (3/14) in New York at the AMC Empire.