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A road movie whose exotic elements don’t obscure the overfamiliarity of its plot, Rachid Bouchareb‘s Just Like a Woman finds an American and an Egyptian immigrant bonding over belly-dancing as they share the ride from Chicago to Santa Fe. Obvious parallels to Thelma & Louise do little to raise the dramatic stakes here, and solid lead performances don’t enhance the pic’s limited art house appeal.
The film is midriff-minded from its opening shot of a woman’s bare belly: Mona (Golshifteh Farahani) is being tended to by a faith healer bent on helping her conceive after five years of childless marriage to shopkeeper Mourad (Roschdy Zem). Mona’s hateful mother-in-law (Chafia Boudraa) is making their lives hell, and when she dies after Mona accidentally mixes up her medications, Mona flees before she can be accused of intending to kill her.
Marilyn (Sienna Miller), a regular customer at Mourad’s store, is leaving town without police pursuit: Having learned that her deadbeat husband (Jesse Bob Harper) is cheating on her the same day she’s fired from her job, she decides to audition for a Santa Fe-based belly-dancing troupe in hopes of starting a new life.
The two bump into each other on the road, and wind up taking dance gigs in restaurants along the way to pay for food and gas. These impromptu arrangements lead to some predictably seedy dressing-room propositions, but none of the encounters with bar owners goes badly enough to turn the women into desperadoes; in fact, Marilyn doesn’t learn that Mona’s a fugitive until well into the trip.
What troubles the women do encounter can be difficult to swallow: Worst is a clash with some pudgy Midwestern racists who turn implausibly violent, lending conflict to the film just as we’re realizing the detectives investigating Mona’s case back in Chicago are never going to present much threat to her freedom.
Both actresses acquit themselves well, but their sisterly chemistry only carries the film so far, especially when the women are made to enact hackneyed exchanges like a dance lesson in which the earthy Egyptian instructs her learn-the-steps partner to relax and “just feel the music.” Lovely shots of Southwestern landscapes keep the pic easy on the eyes even for viewers who aren’t entranced by the half-naked leads.
Production company: Taghit
Cast: Sienna Miller, Golshifteh Farahani, Bahar Soomekh, Tim Guinee, Roschdy Zem, Chafia Boudraa, Jesse Bob Harper, Sayed Badreya
Director: Rachid Bouchareb
Screenwriters: Joelle Touma, Marion Doussot
Producers: Allen Bain, Jean Brehat, Charles S. Cohen, Francesca Manno, Jesse Scolaro
Director of photography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Petra Barchi
Music: Eric Neveux
Costume designers: Mahemitie Deregnaucourt
Editor: Matt Garner
No rating, 87 minutes
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