2013 // USA // Meera Menon // November 22, 2013 // Digital Theatrical Projection (Landmark Tivoli Theatre)
[Full Disclosure: Farah Goes Bang was one of five debut feature films in the juried New Filmmaker’s Forum competition at the 2013 St. Louis International Film Festival. I served on the NFF jury, and spoke with director Meera Menon briefly at the SLIFF Closing Night Party. This review is intentionally biased to provide an affirmative, constructive evaluation of the film.]
The conventions of the road movie and sex comedy are blended with dashes of multicultural wit and liberal politics in director Meera Menon’s sprightly debut feature, Farah Goes Bang. The eponymous Farah (Nikohl Boosheri) is a sunny but faintly shy Persian-American, who in the autumn of 2004 finds herself newly single and in a post-graduation slump. Her Type A Indian-American friend Roopa (Kiran Deol) has coerced her to leave California behind and stump for John Kerry in the purplish wilds of Ohio. Also along for this cross-country road trip is token white girl K.J. (Kandis Erickson), who shares her friends’ politics, but is a bit more of a prickly slacker at heart.
For Farah, this odyssey represents not only the opportunity to oust the despised George W. Bush from office, but a chance to finally lose her virginity. (There will be, presumably, an abundance of hot progressive guys in Ohio.) Her quest has little to do with love or relationships: it’s all about Farah getting past her sexual hang-ups so she can get on with the business of being an adult. Of course, declaring that her cherry will be popped by Election Night come hell or high water creates a lot of pressure. The situation is not helped by Roopa and K.J.’s good-natured teasing, or the expectations implicit in the economy size box of Trojans stashed in the back of the car.
The film’s screenplay, by Menon and Laura Goode, is fairly straightforward indie dramedy fare. Naturally, the women joke, quarrel, and reconcile along the way. Naturally, they cross paths with a diverse array of mostly one-dimensional characters, from the obligatory bigots to a sassy drag queen. Naturally—spoiler alert!—Farrah does indeed lose her virginity, and beneath a night sky blooming with fireworks, no less. The story is pleasant and fluffy without being syrupy, although there’s little to distinguish it from countless other Sundance-friendly tales about stalled twentysomethings and Middle American dysfunction.
That said, Menon and Goode enliven the proceedings a bit with odd twists and memorable moments. Some of these are deliciously crude, as in Farah’s attempt to preemptively break her hymen with a plastic toy gun in a gas station bathroom. Others are genuinely affecting, such as a scene where K.J. spontaneously opens up to a prospective voter while working the Kerry phone banks. (Menon rather cunningly presents this exchange so that only K.J.’s side of the conversation can be heard.)
The pall that hangs over the film, of course, is that the viewer knows exactly how the 2004 election ended: with four more calamitous years in the reign of C-Plus Augustus, to borrow Charles Pierce’s memorable title for the 43rd U.S. President. This is foreshadowed in the women’s awkwardly defensive pro-Kerry pitch, which is focused on correcting misinformation about their candidate’s war record. An old political adage seems applicable: when you’re spending your time fending off the other candidate’s attacks, you’re losing. In the disappointing aftermath of Election Night, the women concede that they were never that enthusiastic about John Kerry after all. This declaration has the whiff of sour grapes, but it’s also a broader admission that maybe the choices the women have made haven’t always been the wisest. Where Farah’s first taste of the dirty deed is concerned, however, there are no regrets.