In recent years, we’ve seen a number of ethnic comedies about young women caught between their native heritage and their American upbringing. India Sweets and Spices, Definition Please, and Crazy Rich Asians are all bursting with passion, made because someone had something to say. The Persian Version is worthy to stand alongside them. In fact, it’s the best of the bunch.
Leila (Layla Mohammadi) is an aspiring Iranian-American filmmaker. She’s just broken up with her wife and then becomes pregnant by a one-night stand with a male theater actor. That’s only the start of her problems. Her family gathers together when patriarch Ali (Bijan Daneshmand) gets scheduled for a heart transplant. Mom Shireen (Niousha Noor) refuses to accept Leila’s homosexuality, a long-standing source of tension between them. The unplanned pregnancy doesn’t help. During this time, a shocking secret emerges, and Leila learns a fact about Shireen that causes her to see her mother in a new light.
Written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz, The Persian Version mines humor from Leila’s penchant for making bad decisions, along with the awkwardness she tends to create within her family. She’s too Iranian for most Americans, too American for her elders. Therefore, she tries to exist in an in-between region that leaves no one satisfied, particularly herself. Leila intermittently breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience directly with witty, sarcastic remarks.
Underneath the comedy is a heartfelt mother/daughter story. Leila assumes successful businesswoman Shireen is just a hard-driven shrew. Through flashbacks, she learns – as do we – how her mom’s personality developed into what it is. A young actress named Kamand Shafieisabet plays Shireen as a girl, and she gives an absolutely extraordinary performance. When the movie gets back to the present, our view of Shireen is every bit as transformed as Leila’s. Their relationship won’t be the same going forward.
This is the true heart of The Persian Version. Keshavarz dives into the idea that immigrant parents raising their children in America can get on an AM/FM wavelength, with both sides broadcasting but neither able to pick up the other’s signal. Leila and Shireen are on separate frequencies. Once Leila is able to understand her mother’s journey, it unlocks a vision of how to get around the life issues that have been plaguing her. In other words, the generational differences aren’t as different as they may seem.
Filled with laughter, heart, and excellent work from Mohammadi and Noor, The Persian Version is a delight to watch. As a bonus, you even get a joyous musical number at the end, set to a remake of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The movie has insight into cultural matters, yet also speaks to the sort of identity crises any of us can face. All the way around, it’s a winner.
out of four
The Persian Version is rated R for language and some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.