Should Not Be Lawfully Wed, by Rita Cannon
The press materials for Ramin Niami’s Shirin In Love compare it explicitly to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and the films do share some superficial qualities – they’re both romantic comedies about daughters of immigrants who fall for blandly pleasant white guys. But by inviting comparison to Joel Zwick’s surprise hit from 2002, Shirin in Love is setting itself up for a fall. I like My Big Fat Greek Wedding more than most critics, but even if you think it’s hacky garbage, at least it’s competently made and has a modicum of charm. Niami’s film, on the other hand, is not only formulaic and silly, but poorly put together from top to bottom. The plot, from the ludicrous inciting incident to the utterly predictable (but somehow still ludicrous!) ending, is a jaw-dropping pileup of Things That Would Never Happen, and is presented in such a rote and joyless way that it isn’t even possible to enjoy the clichés on their own terms.
Shirin (Nazanin Boniadi) is a young Iranian-American woman who lives with her parents in Los Angeles. She’s also a one-woman compendium of rom-com tropes – she writes for a magazine, and while allegedly intelligent (she has a law degree from Oxford), her defining characteristics are clumsiness, absent-mindedness, inability to hold her liquor, and being really bad at driving. She’s engaged to Mike, a successful plastic surgeon whose defining characteristic is “successful plastic surgeon.” Mike is fine or whatever (I really have no idea if he’s fine, because the film makes no effort whatsoever to show us what their relationship is actually like) but Shirin starts to question her feelings after meeting William (Riley Smith), the sensitive son of a novelist she’s profiling for her magazine.
If Shirin is a thin character, Mike and William are worse. The former is a complete non-entity whose depth of feeling for his fiancée turns on a dime whenever the film needs it to. When it’s time for Mike to beg Shirin to come back to him, he does. When it’s time for her to wind up with the other guy, he magically no longer gives a shit. William seems slightly more like a real human being, but only because of a super sad backstory designed to imbue all his boring behavior with meaning. William also has a gross caricature of a mean girlfriend, whom we definitely don’t need to feel bad for when he throws her over for Shirin. We know she’s mean because of the callous way she reacts when William tells her his mother is dying, which is a whole other terrible plotline that feels like somebody took the infamous “I definitely have breast cancer” moment from The Room and stretched it out into like five separate scenes.
Thin characters and predictable plots are, sadly, increasingly common in romantic comedies, but Shirin In Love has bigger problems than a wan script. It frequently crosses the line from silly into nonsensical, and many scenes are edited so badly that they seem almost deliberately confusing, to say nothing of the way they work when strung together. For example, the way Shirin and William meet: They’re both at a party thrown by Shirin’s parents. William is leaving the party in his car, when a wasted Shirin runs up to him and demands a ride “anywhere.” He says okay, they drive around for a while, and she passes out in the front seat. Rather than taking her back to the party where he found her, he drives her to a hotel, carries her unconscious body up to a room, takes off all her clothes (it’s been raining and he’s worried wet clothes will give her pneumonia), and then leaves her there. Cut to: Shirin the next day, still in bed at the hotel, still naked, with Mike and her parents standing over her demanding to know if she’s been unfaithful.
I have so many questions about this. Why are these people here? Did Shirin call them? Why didn’t she put on clothes first? Does she literally have no memory of anything that happened? If so, shouldn’t everyone be a lot more freaked out? Why would William do any of the things he just did? In what universe is waking up in a strange place naked with no idea how you got there less bad than getting pneumonia? Is that even how pneumonia works? At one point during this scene, Shirin’s mother assures Mike that nothing untoward could have happened, because she knows the guy who drove Shirin to the hotel, and he’s gay. But William isn’t gay, and he doesn’t know Shirin’s mom, so what’s going on here? Is her mom misinformed, or is she just making shit up? Why? Is the whole movie going to be like this? (Yes, it is.)
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Shirin In Love is that its leads are both appealing actors who have been good in other things. But Boniadi and Smith are both wasted on cardboard cutout characters. The fact that Shirin and her family are Iranian is perhaps the only distinctive or interesting thing about the film, and even that is basically swept under the rug in favor of more melodramatic nonsense – if the fact that she and William have different ethnic backgrounds has any effect on their relationship at all, it’s never acknowledged in any real way. What we’re left with instead is an exceptionally trite collection of moments you’ve already seen. Everything Shirin In Love does has been done before, and far better.