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Signature Move

New Horizons // Unrated // February 20, 2018
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 18, 2018 | E-mail the Author
For several years, writer/director Jennifer Reeder has been making a name for herself in the independent filmmaking community. Since 2006, she's produced a string of acclaimed short films, as well as a somewhat mysterious 2008 feature-length debut called Accidents at Home and How They Happen that doesn't seem to be available anywhere (there is also one short on her IMDb from 1995, but nothing between then and 2006). Her wonderful 2015 short, Blood Below the Skin (which evokes a mixture of surreal comedy and raw emotion that recalls Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know) scored a couple of big nominations: a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, and an AFI Fest Grand Jury Prize. Now, she's back with a second feature-length effort, Signature Move, which seems to be the first project she's taken on she didn't write herself.

Zaynab (Fawzia Mirza, also the film's co-writer and producer) is a lawyer who specializes in green card cases. Following her father's death of a heart attack, she has taken in her mother, Parveen (Shabana Azmi), who does nothing but sit in her chair and watch Pakistani soap operas all day, and occasionally spy out the window at passerby with a pair of binoculars. Parveen is hoping to spot a potential husband for Zaynab, but Zaynab has not told her mother that she's gay. She is, however, lonely, and one night in a bar she finds herself falling into bed with local bookstore owner Alma (Sari Sanchez), a one-night stand that quickly threatens to turn into more. While Zaynab worries about what her mother will think, Alma worries about her own emotional vulnerability.

Signature Move was produced by the Chicago Film Project, an indie distributor connected to the independent newspaper Newcity that helps to fund local projects. Unlike Reeder's shorts, which sometimes feature a bit of the surreal or fantastic, Signature Move is more firmly tethered to reality, perhaps by budget or simply by the needs of Mirza and Lisa Donato's script. Although Reeder gets a touch of the otherworldly into the movie in a scene with Parveen alone watching one of her soaps, the film echoes some of her other films in a different way, exploring the relationships between mothers and daughters. In addition to Parveen, there is also Alma's mother Rosa (Charin Alvarez), a former lucha libre wrestler who gave up the sport when Alma was born. On one hand, it seems obvious, yet it's easy to imagine other filmmakers not having the film itself approach the two mothers the same way their daughters do. Parveen's character is fleshed out in solitude, as we learn what she thinks about her daughter from the distance Zaynab puts between them, whereas Alma and Rosa discuss their lives and experiences directly.

Lucha libre forms another unexpected connection between Zaynab and Alma, as Zaynab takes on a client in exchange for free personal training instead of cash. Jayde (Audrey Francis) is also a lucha libre wrestler, and a reliable sounding board for Zaynab. It would be a lie to say that Zaynab's slow embracing of lucha libre makes for an obvious parallel to her struggle to come out of the closet to her mother, but it adds a unique flavor to a movie already rich a strong cultural perspective stemming from its central relationship between Pakistani and Mexican women. Move is not predominantly geared toward an examination of either culture, but those backgrounds help root the characters in their differing perspectives (and their shared ones -- in one amusing scene, Alma and Parveen bond over the similarity between Parveen's soaps and Alma's telenovelas). Reeder shoots the movie's lucha libre battles with energy, leading to the striking visual of Zaynab and Alma kissing with the masks on.

The film's low budget leads to small things that may frustrate some viewers. Scenes that are naturally similar are often shot the same way, adding to the small-scale atmosphere of the film (for instance, a consistent angle on Parveen in her recliner in front of the television). The film's editing, by Felix Pineiro, is occasionally choppy, perhaps due to sequences that couldn't be shot or refined further (the introduction of Jayde as Zaynab's trainer is a bit confusing, and the film follows up one montage fairly closely with another). Sanchez's performance falters a bit in a crucial scene, although her chemistry with Mirza and overall screen presence are strong. At the heart of the film, however, is Reeder's compassion, her ear for the little moments, and her strong grasp of complicated emotions. Even when it's awkward, Signature Move feels honest, sincere, and warmly realized -- yet another indication that her career is one to watch.

The Blu-ray, Video, Audio, and Extras
DVDTalk received a watermarked screener disc that only contained the feature film, so I can't comment on the packaging or the finalized A/V presentation. However, the official website for the movie notes that the retail DVD includes an audio commentary by director Jennifer Reeder and actor/co-writer/producer Fawzia Mirza, interviews with Reeder, Mirza, and actor Sari Sanchez, and the movie's trailer. The website also notes that a Blu-ray edition is "coming soon."

Like a good lucha libre wrestler, Signature Move gets the audience on its side and delivers the goods, despite a couple falls to the mat. Highly recommended.

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