Muslim teenager Hala copes with the unraveling of her family as she comes into her own.
Hala, from writer-director Minhal Baig, is a wonderfully insightful, poignant film. Following its title character, beautifully portrayed by Geraldine Viswanathan, we follow a young woman as she navigates the tumultuous terrain of self-discovery while also being raised a conservative Pakistani Muslim in America. That would be a full plate on its own, but she is also coming to terms with herself, her desires outside the confines of her upbringing and what it is to be true to oneself.
The film begins with Hala, in the bathtub enjoying some quiet time when her mother Eram (Purbi Joshi), wraps on the door telling her she missed morning prayer. Her father Zahid (Azad Khan) is far more understanding and laidback, chatting about crossword puzzles and discussing world literature. Hala is a writer you see. Her love is the written word and self-exploration. There is no other place that she seems to come to life more than in her composition class taught by Mr. Lawrence (Gabriel Luna). It also helps that her non-Muslim crush Jesse (Jack Kilmer), sits two rows behind her.
“…a young woman as she navigates the tumultuous terrain of self-discovery while also being raised a conservative Pakistani Muslim in America.”
Snaking around her parent’s invasive questioning, Hala begins hanging out at the skate park to see the boy she likes. Then she and Jesse start to hang out. They have endless discussions on literature, philosophy, and the two are very sincerely enamored with one another. Of course, her parents could never know. In fact, in one scene another Muslim couple brings their son over to Hala’s home for dinner, light conversation about the woman’s place in society, and a heaping helping of arranged marriage talk.