“She’s pretty… and she’s clumsy,” cutely rumpled romantic lead William (Riley Smith) informs a drinking buddy in Shirin In Love. He’s talking about the titular protagonist, Shirin (Nazanin Boniadi), and at first, it seems like he will go on to list some of her other, perhaps more revelatory personal traits. Instead, he simply trails off, run aground. Nonetheless, on the basis solely of her attractiveness and physical ineptitude, the drinking buddy nods sagely, and mutters some inane cliché about how she sounds like “the one.”
That more or less sums up Shirin In Love. A pallid romantic comedy possessed of neither imagination nor heart, it stumbles, like its star, from one familiar setpiece to another with a kind of dutiful, joyless resignation. Boniadi has charm: an early scene where she escapes from a party to spin about drunkenly in the rain gestures towards one of those iconic rom-com sweep-the-whole-audience-off-its-feet moments. But her talent is wasted on Shirin, a magazine writer mostly defined by bland haplessness. Shirin can’t drive, she can’t hold her liquor, and she doesn’t even write her own big feature story herself. She gets drenched and has to have competent adults rescue her and comfort her not once, but twice. The film claims she’s smart—she went to Oxford and got a law degree—but it’s just assertion. She never does anything to indicate she has a brain, or for that matter a personality.
William is similarly blah. At first, his low-key reticence seems sweet. But at feature length, it quickly becomes monotonous, then irritating. To distract from the tedious spectacle of two mediocrities falling slowly and uninterestingly in love, the film desperately tosses up a slew of character parts: feisty author Rachel (Amy Madigan); Kirin’s evil, manipulating bitch mother Maryam (Anita Khalatbari); even a walk-on over-the-top Russian immigrant dispensing vodka with a broad accent, since broad accents are funny. All flail gamely, but to little effect, as the plot grinds on through increasingly improbable yet always predictable complications. There’s even a climactic interrupted wedding, because of course there is.
Shirin In Love’s ethnic touches are supposed to distinguish it in some fashion, but they simply render the film more indistinguishable. There’s a smattering of translated Persian dialogue and some Iranian dancing at parties. Shirin’s mom wants her to marry the nice Iranian plastic surgeon, and everyone expects Shirin to have lots of babies. It’s like someone pulled out a standard “colorful ethnic family” form and the filmmakers went down it ticking off all the boxes. Frown on exogamy? Check. Amusing ethnic custom? Check. The possibility that the protagonists’ different backgrounds might be a source of tension in the relationship isn’t so much as entertained. Similarly, post-9/11 prejudice is mentioned once as an offhand joke, but never dealt with as a thematic element.
The film wasn’t required to explore these specific issues, but it’s easy to wish it explored anything, in any way, even just a little. As it is, the title Shirin In Love seems strained, as if writer-director Ramin Niami hoped saying the word “love” up front could convince the audience it was in his picture somewhere.