To the tune of Wet Leg’s hit “On the Chaise Longue,” the surprisingly angry coming-of-age film “The Persian Version” begins with its lesbian heroine narrating the action, attending a drag party dressed in a “burka-tini” and having a one-night stand with a straight but cross-dressing British actor playing the lead in a Broadway production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”
Life is so complicated. Our heroine Leila Jamshidpour (Layla Mohammadi) gets pregnant, and in spite of her independent spirit, she decides to have the baby with the halting approval of “Hedwig.” “The Persian Version” then proceeds to examine the terrible relationship Leila, who has five or six grown-up brothers, has had with her tall, beautiful mother Shireen (Niousha Noor). Complicating Leila’s relationship with her mother is her father’s daunting medical state.
Her father, whose name is Ali Reza (Bijan Daneshmand) is a longtime physician so in need of a heart transplant that he is about to be given an organ that will probably fail in two years in order to keep him alive. Typically, matriarch Shireen proclaims that Leila, a budding filmmaker, must stay home with grandmother Mamanjoon (Bella Warda) while her father is under the knife and the rest of the family shelters at the hospital. When Leila was a child, Shireen often forced her daughter to make dinner for the entire family.
In a magical realist style name-checked by Leila, we will then experience the family’s tangled and intricate back story, including the reason why her parents fled Iran in the 1960s for Brooklyn; the early months of Shireen’s marriage to Ali Reza when they lived in the remote mountains; and the true identity of one of Leila’s brothers. We will also hear about why Iran and U.S. “got a divorce.”
Now, try to imagine all of this being related to us using Cindy Lauper’s anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” as a refrain, along with both Iranian and contemporary music, including an appearance by Iranian pop star Googoosh, and both traditional Iranian dance and contemporary dance. Whew.
“The Persian Version” is both the story of an Iranian-American family, an entity that is naturally conservative due to its Muslim background, and the coming-of-age story about an Iranian-American lesbian having the child of a straight British actor dubbed “the ugly one” by her brothers, told in a free-wheeling, free-associative manner. Shireen has a guardian spirit named Iman Zaman, who appears in the nick-of-time to save her and her children. Faced with a disastrous medical bill, Shireen announces, “We don’t do bankruptcy,” and launches a brilliant career as a realtor in nearby New Jersey.
Written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz (“Circumstance”) in her sophomore outing, “The Persian Version” combines semi-autobiography, soap opera, music, dance and the kind of enthusiasm that cannot be faked. Keshavarz may think that the film is about Leila. But the truth is that it is a celebration of Shireen. And for the absolutely magnetic and fearless Noor, whose Shireen is alternately mother, evil stepmother and “strong Iranian woman,” “The Persian Version” may be her star-is-born moment.
(“The Persian Version” contains sexually suggestive material and profanity)
“The Persian Version”
Rated R. In English and Farsi with subtitles. At the Landmark Kendall Square and AMC Boston Common. Grade: A-