Posted: 12/08/2008


I Can’t Think Straight


by Kelly-Michelle Mason

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We’ve seen it countless times; intelligent, extroverted, slightly antagonistic person A is introduced to equally intelligent, slightly more reserved person B, and it’s so electric we can feel the current in our movie seats. During their courtship, which is at the same time both powerful and fragile, the two people bring out the best in one another, usually through adversity, and from our seats, we root for them to make it. The formula doesn’t change much even when person A and B are of the same sex, and even though we know the destination, the sexy, intelligent, “I Can’t Even Think Straight” manages to make the journey well worth the trip.

Person A is the free spirited, London-based Palestinian, Tala. She has been engaged four times and married zero. She comes from a wealthy family, and seems to enjoy the trappings of their success, but her goal is to make it on her own. It’s not immediately clear why she can’t make it all the way to the altar; she’s beautiful and whip smart – a born provocateur with an acerbic, challenging wit. When Tala’s longtime friend Ali brings his girlfriend, Leyla, (person B) to the house to meet her, the light begins to dawn; Tala is attracted to women. Or, at the very least, she’s attracted to Leyla. Their “meetcute” has the agnostic Tala and the Muslim Leyla engaged in a heated discussion about religion, replete with smoldering glances and a totally oblivious Ali.

Equally smart and no less beautiful, (and unbeknownst to Tala and Ali,) Leyla has already begun questioning her sexuality. Dissatisfied with Ali, and feeling bound by the mandates of her culture, Leyla is drawn to Tala’s verve and counter culture tendencies. The freedom with which Tala carries herself is all but unheard of to Leyla, who tries to conform to her Indian family’s expectations; she is really a writer, but she toils at her father’s insurance company. She’s attracted to Tala, but continues to date Ali. When, under the guise of shopping, Leyla and Tala spend a weekend together, their mutual attraction turns physical. In that pivotal morning after we see the bait and switch; it’s the once reserved Leyla who now has the confidence to live the life she wants without fear, and it’s the once fearless Tala who can’t find the strength to pull away from the expectations of her family. Leyla, energized by love, promptly returns home and comes out to her family. Tala, immobilized by fear, promptly returns home and prepares to marry fiancé number four. As Leyla flourishes in both love and life, (she becomes a successful writer and has a new girlfriend,) Tala, with some assistance from some unexpected sources, must find the courage to decide for herself exactly what, and who, she can and can’t live without.

O.K., while it’s possible that the characters could have benefitted from a little more depth, I am of the opinion that characters who play straight while being gay suggests an inherent multi-dimensionality that doesn’t need to be spelled out. While the reality of the cultures of these two women imply that their family lives “post-gay revelation” might be more difficult than the movie would have us believe, it was perfectly fine that I didn’t see that part. It simply wasn’t that kind of film. This film was about two women coming to grips with who they are; their families, like all families, will either fall in line or fall away. That’s reality.

With its likeable cast and breezy run time, this movie reminds us that gay love stories don’t have to be particularly tragic or particularly silly to be real or good; just like with straight love stories, everyone can truly be happy in the end. Leyla and Tala are just like people you know, and from your seats, I promise you will root for them.

Kelly-Michelle Mason Kelly-Michelle Mason is a screenwriter and a film critic in Chicago

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