Signature Move is a rare kind of film. But this rarity is precisely what makes it such a hidden gem. The independently-produced film (which screened last year at the Los Cabos Film Festival as a work in a progress and more recently got a theatrical release in Chicago and New York City) follows a young Pakistani lawyer who begins a relationship with a Mexican woman she meets randomly at a bar. Written and starring Chicago-based comedian Fawzia Mirza, the film gets its title from, as you’ll have guessed it, Mexican wrestling. Mirza’s character, Zaynab, agrees to help a client of hers in exchange for wrestling lessons, a perfect way to get in a workout and perhaps release some of the stress that hiding her sexuality from her homebound mother keeps causing her. And yes, this cross-cultural rom-com ends in a raucous all-ladies lucha libre fight that gives Glow a run for its money.
It is the cross-cultural aspect of Signature Move which truly makes it stand out. Shot with a loving eye for the city of Chicago, the Jennifer Reeder-directed film is as curious about local Mexican joints as it is about Pakistani street vendors. Where culturally-specific films are a genre onto their own (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Real Women Have Curves, Moonstruck), they tend to focus on just one culture, the better to allow the audience to embrace the love letter to Greek-Americans, US Latinos, or Italian-Americans the projects are presenting. Not so in Mirza’s film (which she co-wrote Lisa Donato—it truly is an all-women affair!)
Taking a page out of Chicago’s vibrant and diverse population, this romantic comedy about two seemingly incompatible women (Sari Sanchez‘s Alma is a free spirit, Zaynab a guarded workaholic) looks at the ways second-generation Americans from seemingly wildly different cultures have plenty in common. Alma’s relationship to her mother (a famous former wrestler) may be much more open than that between Zaynab and her near-agoraphobic mother, but in both dynamics you see the promise of what coming to this country held for Mexicans and Pakistanis alike.
Indeed, the focus on family and the challenges of navigating the expectations mothers place on us is what makes Signature Move feel incredibly honest about how gender and sexuality intersect with issues of heritage in contemporary America. That it’s also a hilarious comedy with an awkward closeted and ambitious lesbian as its protagonist (with a killer soundtrack full of indie acts you’ll want to seek out) is just further proof that stories that have often felt marginal or too niche are finally making their way into the big screen.