Sabah Ruba Nadda

Or, My Big Fat Secret Arab Romance on Degrassi Street. Arsinee Khanjian assays the title role, a 40-year-old Muslim woman who's remained unmarried while taking care of her sick mother and ministering to her family without protest. All that changes when she sneaks out to take a swim and falls in love with hunky Stephen (Shawn Doyle), who, as a divorced Canadian, isn't remotely acceptable. She tries to hide the relationship of course, and uses her racy 18-year-old sister to help cover her tracks, but she knows the day of reckoning is at hand.

Sadly, the film is as tentative and cautious as its title character. Writer/director Ruba Nadda seems to have discovered filmmaking just like Sabah has discovered her passion: suddenly and without immediate comprehension. Though she gets full points for a bold colour scheme that defies Canada's icy-blue house style, she's still one of those people who parks the camera outside the action and never cuts in come hell or high water. Thus many of her humorous exchanges die in a hail of awkward pauses that can't be removed, while her unsure compositions do nothing to compel the viewer's interest.

It's not a terrible movie, but it's flat and uninspired - a familiar and necessary cross-cultural song that I wish someone would learn to sing better. Though its vivid and opinionated Muslim women are one hell of a stereotype buster, the characters themselves are rendered in cutesy shorthand that blow their credibility and are satiated with a wildly implausible wrap up that comes straight out of TV movies. Khanjian does her best and David Alpay has a great turn as a forward-thinking suitor, but that's not enough to raise this above the "wait for the video" or even the "stumble upon it on cable" mark. (Mongrel Media)