I can’t believe we’re already starting to wrap up the Summer of Love, AKA Gay July. This week’s film tells a story we usually don’t see on film about a young woman from India with cerebral palsy learning to love ladies, guys, and herself.
Margarita with a Straw
A young Indian woman with cerebral palsy studies abroad in New York, where she develops her sense of self, interest in Apple products, and sexual identity.
Laila is a young Indian woman living with her music-loving family: dad who always sings off-key, brother constantly making snide remarks, and problem-solving mother who can seemingly do anything. As a woman with cerebral palsy, Laila gets around in a wheelchair, hangs with her bestie Dhruv at school, and is never caught without a trusty (controversial?) plastic straw. Laila is almost always smiling and happy, but she hides her feelings of insecurity and shame about her disability behind this facade.
Though she doesn’t play an instrument, Laila loves music and writes lyrics for her band. She’s somewhat confused when she finds herself attracted to two different members of the band, one of whom happens to be female. It’s ultimately the lead singer, Nima, who Laila decides is the man of her dreams until she is rejected. Not only that, but her band wins the top prize at a competition, which the announcer says to her face is because of her disability.
Too ashamed and discouraged to return to her school, Laila eagerly accepts her mother’s solution: go to NYU and study creative writing on the scholarship she has recently earned.
During her first class, Laila’s instructor assigns a student to help her type and take notes. She initially declines help…until she realizes her assistant will be a rather attractive blonde Brit.
Soon after, Laila is in for a shock when she happens across a protest against police violence. As the protest intensifies, the police shut it down with tear gas, leaving behind Laila and another girl, Khanum. A rebel with parents from Pakistan and Bangladesh, Khanum is blind and very interested in Laila.
As the girls explore the city together, Laila becomes attracted to Khanum, and they begin a relationship in secret. While Khanum is out and secure in her identity, Laila feels less certain and has absolutely no desire to have that conversation with her family. Laila’s mother has no clue the girls are more than friends when they decide to move in together.
Though Laila loves Khanum, she is still attracted to Jared, her British assistant. After impulsively sleeping with him, Laila keeps this a secret. Probably for the best as both Laila and Khanum have been invited to spend the holidays with her family.
Inevitably, drama ensues. Laila decides now is the time to be honest on all fronts, revealing her bisexuality to her mother and hook up with Jared to Khanum. None of this goes well, but everything is put on hold when a much bigger family crisis emerges.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
I really love that this film was made–Laila is not a character we see too often on screen. She feels like a very real character rather than the improbably saintly figure who triumphs over adversity that characters with disabilities often become. Though she’s optimistic, Laila does feel insecure about how others perceive her disability. Importantly, she makes mistakes that are frustrating at times but allow her to experience growth as a character. Despite some of her questionable choices, it’s impossible not to root for Laila.
The character of Khanum is also excellent–what a badass. She makes the whole Jared situation extra frustrating because he’s so fucking dull by comparison. Her romance with Laila feels organic, though the main love story in this film is that of Laila with herself. The relationship between Laila and her mother feels real too; it’s a beautiful relationship, but it’s not perfect. Both women have emotional limitations that prevent them from connecting at times.
Biggest complaint here is the absence of a musical number about sexuality in the tradition of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.