Tribeca Reviews — Road Tripping Farah: Sexuality, Politics and Feminism in “Farah Goes Bang”
A film about three peach-fuzzed, male 20-somethings road tripping through America’s heartland in search of one-night stands could surely raise a feminist eyebrow or two. If only because there’s already been enough of them made to bring us well into the next century. Think: Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996) and Road Trip (2000) and you know the trope. Boring: yawn, yawn.
Rare is the film written and directed by and for women that deals with unladylike subjects like getting one’s “cherry popped” and the smell of one’s rear end after being in a car on the road for days. Such is the jubilant, refreshing portrayal of three hairy(less) female 20-somethings road tripping through America’s heartland in Farah Goes Bang, directed by Meera Menon and premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. Nominated for the Nora Ephron Award, created in honor of the writer and director who died last year, Menon’s first full-length feature is chock-full of hilarity, human tenderness and the unexpected — signature traits of Ephron’s oeuvre.
But Farah Goes Bang isn’t a romcom in the traditional sense. Co-writers Menon and Laura Goode, who met while undergraduates at Columbia University, have described their joint venture as “a valentine to contemporary feminism, youth in revolt, and the passionate politics of idealism.” And how spot-on they are. Farah Goes Bang is, in some ways, an amalgam of Thelma and Louise, Reality Bites, and Harold and Kumar — films replete with ennui and anger; ethnic and gender clashes; sex and rock ‘n’ roll. But that’s where the similarities stop on a dime.
Farah deviates from tradition with well-sculpted portrayals of women that refuse to play into static feminist dichotomies — male versus female, swine versus swan, and force versus gentility. If you’re looking for such rigid notions of what it means to be a woman in America today, you’ll be deeply frustrated with the three female characters whose refusal to be stereotyped by their gender, socio-economic status or ethnicity lies at the heart of this carefully woven plot.
We meet our protagonists at a defining moment in recent American history: one month before the 2004 presidential elections. In response to the wars, best friends Farah (Nikohl Boosheri), Roopa (Kiran Deol) and KJ (Kandis Erickson) have volunteered to work for the Kerry campaign. “This is our Vietnam,” Roopa says. “We may not have John F. Kennedy, but we have another guy from Boston!” Driving a Volvo from California to Ohio, the three college grads stop off in red states to canvass for the blue candidate they believe can and will bring the troops home. In classic road trip tradition, there are loud blasts of music, hands riding the wind, refuels at truck stops and the occasional overnight in a dingy motel. But it’s not the conquering of the landscape and culture so often seen in the male protagonist’s quest. These young women seek to unite communities and are in direct defiance of the male campaign manager who tells them to avoid red states all together. “I wish there were time to unite the country,” he says half-heartedly. “Go for purple.” “Go brown people!” Roopa, an Indian American retorts.
Along the way, a cross-section of America — bigots, co-eds, transvestites, housewives, war vets and skanks — tests not only the women’s canvassing skills but also their convictions, self-confidences and passions as each struggles to find her place in a disorienting world. Farah is a virgin struggling to meld strong sexual desires with her Persian upbringing; Roopa is an unemployed political activist whose parents are pressuring her to find work; and KJ is an Army kid whose angry outbursts have deep-seated roots.
The acting is flawless, and at times one forgets it’s not a documentary. The actors wear the skin of their characters so tightly it is as if, unaware, they walked out of their apartment and bumped into a camera crew just waiting for them to film live. The camera, keeping a safe distance from the action, captures them in playful banter, often having to do with their ease or unease with sexuality. Roopa, the jokester of the group, watching as Farah plucks her eyebrows, laments how much hair she has on her body. Roopa laughs hysterically and says, “Growing up I had a unibrow on my lip!” KJ, their blonde friend, complains of hair on her bikini line, and the other two blow her off as if she were an albino hypochondriac. That which differentiates one ethnicity or race from another is outed, celebrated — not masked with politically correct innuendo. When they finally hunker down for the night in a motel, Roopa and KJ splash about in the pool. Farah, seemingly grounded yet hesitant to embrace life, sits on the sidelines and observes. Her friends cajole her to join them, but she refuses. KJ splashes her and jokes, “Farah doesn’t like getting wet.” One of many double meanings referring to Farah’s state of virginity tucked into the dialogue like cherished love letters hidden under the mattress.
Farah Goes Bang is in many ways a bow to the third wave feminist movement that rushed into the 1990s with Rebecca Walker’s Ms. article, “The Third Wave,” swiftly followed by the seminal book, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and The Future co-authored by Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner. The premise of the third wave, played out in Farah Goes Bang with the precision of a conductor, is that feminism isn’t a political action that happens once in a blue moon but rather it is the manner in which one chooses to live life — be it through women’s camaraderie, fashion, politics, careers, child-rearing or lovemaking. It is a mindful lifestyle that celebrates and strives for equality, justice and sexual freedom for men and women, people of color, the LGBT community and citizens of the developing world — an all-encompassing movement that refuses to focus solely on securing the rights of those who have a white vagina.
It is the disassembling and rearranging of society that Menon and Goode do so well — women protecting their own and yet also protecting others; women taking the lead when men seem castrated by ideology or fear; women embracing the “other” both inside themselves and in others. Farah Goes Bang is a lesson in gender studies, but one that is blanketed with irony, laughter, humility and plain old rollicking fun. It is a film that women of a certain generation (read: Gen Xers and Gen Yers) will embrace for its honesty, but it is also a film that women of a certain generation (read: baby boomers) might find just as rewarding…crib notes into the lives of their own, often confounding, daughters, nieces and granddaughters. At times, Farah Goes Bang may seem disjointed and even a bit sophomoric, but in reality it is an homage to the legacy second wave feminists started in the 1960s — with a lot more gumption and a lot less hair.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4
“Farah Goes Bang” opened at Tribeca on April 19. The film will be screening on Wednesday, April 24 and Saturday, April 27 at the AMC Loews Village 7 Theatre (located at 66 3rd Avenue at 11th Street). For ticket and time schedule information, please visit http://www.tribecafilm.com/festival. You can also watch the film anytime online through April 28 on the official Tribeca Film Festival site.
Featured image: Farah and K.J. (Nikohl Boosheri and Kandis Erickson) in “Farah Goes Bang.” Photo Credit: Paul Gleason.