E1 Entertainment // 2012 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Nazarewycz (Retired) // October 30th, 2013
Two Friends. One journey. No limits.
Many things can pique my interest in a film, and sometimes that thing is as simple as a pull quote. As printed on the DVD case, Stephen Schaefer of the Boston Herald says Just Like a Woman is "a Thelma and Louise with belly dancing." Who can resist that combination?
Marilyn (Sienna Miller, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) is at a low point in her life. Not only has she lost her job, she comes home to find her unemployed husband sleeping with another woman. The only thing that brings her joy is her belly dancing. Her dance instructor encourages her to drive from Chicago to Santa Fe to compete in a major belly dancing contest, and he lands her a restaurant performance en route. With a few bucks and her costumes, Marilyn hits the road.
Mona (Golshifteh Farahani, Body of Lies) doesn't have it much better. She lives an oppressed existence, the victim of endless verbal abuse from her mother-in-law (Chafia Boudraa, Outside the Law). The young wife of Middle Eastern heritage is having difficulty getting pregnant, and her husband's live-in mother constantly berates her and threatens to replace her with another bride. After an unexpected tragedy, Mona decides her lot in life will be better alone and somewhere else.
The two unhappy women happen to know each other casually; Marilyn is a daily customer of the small market owned by Mona and her husband, Mourad (Roschdy Zem, The Cold Light of Day). When the two run into each other at a nearby rest stop, Marilyn invites Mona along for the cross-country ride.
If only I cared. This is what weighs the film down to the point that it sinks. Instead of generating interest, Just Like a Woman simply allows apathy to ferment and spread. The entire film is nothing more than a series of scenes that have a check-box feel to them -- as if director Rachid Bouchareb (Asterix at the Olympic Games) had his eye on meeting the minimum requirement of actions to get the two female leads on the road and beyond.
Marilyn's husband is a jerk. Check. Marilyn loses her job. Check. Mona's husband is a mama's boy. Check. Mona's mother-in-law is overbearing. Check. Marilyn catches her husband and the pizza delivery girl (how gender-bendingly porno clichè, by the way). Check. Tragedy occurs at Mona's house. Check. Hit the road. Check. End Act I.
This model continues once the police become involved, and both cops lack any compelling qualities. For a story with elements that would require detectives to get involved in a cross-country investigation, those very detectives have all the charisma of meter maids. The only thing notable about them is that Soha (Bahar Soomekh, Mission: Impossible III) is of Middle Eastern descent, while George (Tim Guinee, a great character actor who is completely wasted in this role) is pretty much a racist. There's your law enforcement team.
The women travel. The women dance. There is conflict. The women move on. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It's all so very dull. The filmmakers have managed to take inspiration from an excellent film and water it down to its blandest roots. Tweak one or two things and this is a Lifetime movie. It's that vanilla.
The one head-scratching element in the film is a racial epithet that is used twice. I dare not mention it here, but I will say that while it is not a common slur, it is one that I have heard before (sadly). It's directed toward Mona (and her family in its first usage), by two different people in two different settings. The first time it appears as graffiti on Mona's market window. The second time, it is spewed by an older woman that Mona encounters at a campground. It isn't that the Middle Eastern woman encounters racism in America, it's the specificity of the slur coming from two unrelated characters. Of all the slurs available, this one occurred twice. It feels like the writers were going for pure shock value by repeating the horrible phrase, or they were just plain lazy.
The Just Like a Woman (Blu-ray) 2.35:1/1080p transfer is remarkably pedestrian. Scenes that should sparkle on Blu -- from bar scenes with lighting to highlight the dancing to sweeping images of American landscapes -- look like nothing more than average digital images, with slightly grainy sections at times. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, while not greatly challenged with a lot of competing noise, sounds very good. Extras consist of the film's trailer and a collection of thirty-five production stills. The end.
The film's sole bright spot is Farahani. The camera loves her, she plays the drifting soul well, and she is especially good in her scenes with her mother-in-law.
Miller and Farahani are no more reminiscent of Thelma and Louise than are Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman from Cannonball Run.
Hips don't lie, and neither does this judge. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R
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