Film Review: Just Like a Woman

Although they didn’t wriggle their tummies, Sarandon and Davis did it first and much better:

Thelma and Louise with some belly dancing thrown in,” would have been the big-studio pitch for this film, had that been the case. In reality, it’s actually a modestly-budgeted indie with Sienna Miller as its only semi-bankable name, and yet it pretty much remains “T+L”+belly dancing, anyway.
Miller is Marilyn, a Chicago lass fond of seductive North African dance, who has just been fired from her nowhere job and also discovered her worthless, jobless hubbie (Jessie Bob Harper) two-timing her in their own bed. She decides to take up her dance teacher’s advice to audition for the Santa Fe Belly Dancing Company and hits the road. En route, she meets Mona (Golshifteh Farahani), an Egyptian woman who worked in a deli she frequented, who is on the lam after accidentally and fatally giving her hateful, abusive mother-in-law (Chafia Boudraa) the wrong medication. She jumps in Marilyn‘s car and the two make their way across country, earning money by belly-dancing in the most improbable night spots along the way.

Although branded throughout by a heavily mournful identification with these terribly wronged women’s plights, the film is nevertheless silly in the extreme. Director/writer Rachid Bouchareb makes you swallow an awful lot of sparsely scripted expositional guff here, from the coincidental encounter between the women at the precise moment when both are skipping town to Mona’s oh-so successful impersonation of Marilyn at that climactic audition for that aforementioned Santa Fe Belly Dancing Company. The film’s one redeeming virtue is Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography, which is evocatively lit and filled with stunning shots of the red-rocked, hot springs-encrusted terrain of New Mexico. Eric Neveaux contributes some effectively affecting music, although the main theme with its wailing lament unquestionably calls to mind The Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Miller, who proved she could act as Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl, is appealing but really cannot do much more than just go through the motions of her shallowly conceived, incessant-victim role, as does the exquisite, equally put-upon Farahani. Miller, who has obviously worked hard at it, dances well enough, but it’s a little off-putting to have her initially cast as choreographic mentor to the shy and retiring Mona, who’s obviously been steeped in this culture from birth. (When they dance together, Faharani’s easy elegance handily outshines Miller’s more strenuous exertions.) Boudraa, with only a few scenes, manages to make the largest histrionic impression, oozing raucous malevolence as the mother-in-law from hell.

After all the heroines’ tribulations, the ending has a decidedly unsatisfactory feel to it, however “admirably” independent-minded it may be, with the two returning to Chicago, Marilyn completely blowing off her dance dreams, while Mona unconvincingly decides to leave her husband Mourad (Roschdy Zem), who has never stopped loving her and wants to do so even more now that his detestable mother is out of the way.