Before We Vanish by Alex Engquist Film

Signature Move | Jennifer Reeder

October 13, 2017

Jennifer Reeder’s feature debut is a brisk, charming story of asserting one’s identity in the midst of cultural expectations. Zaynab (the charismatic Fawzia Mirza) works as a lawyer for the Pakistani-American community of Chicago while her recently widowed mother, Parveen (Shabana Azmi), sits at home watching soap operas and peering apprehensively through binoculars at a world she doesn’t understand, hoping to spot a potential husband for her thirtysomething daughter. When a client, who’s also a former pro wrestler, offers lessons in the ring in lieu of payment, Zaynab seizes the opportunity (in her characteristically incisive words) “for existential reasons: immigration and codependency.” A drunken hookup with Alma (Sari Sanchez), the daughter of a former Mexican luchadora, leads to a tentative, tender relationship and Zaynab’s coming to reveal her true self to her mother from behind a shiny green wrestler’s mask.

Signature Move‘s script (by Mirza and Lisa Donato) is attuned to the ways in which the familiarity of one’s own culture as a second-generation immigrant can be both comforting and stifling, and how generalizing statements tend to eclipse individual experience. “Mothers and daughters aren’t friends in our culture,” Zaynab says, attempting to explain the dysfunctional relationship to Alma before adding, “Well…not in my family.” The pacing feels a bit rushed and a few of the supporting characters are left underdeveloped, but easy chemistry between Mirza and Sanchez and nuanced work from Bollywood veteran Azmi, speaking volumes about Parveen in the smallest of gestures from her living room recliner, makes for a lively snapshot of women negotiating change in their lives while staying close to family and cultural heritage.

Published as part of BAMcinemaFest 2017 | Dispatch 1.