Directed by Tanaz Eshaghian.
It’s been a long time since American documentaries haven't been reality shows. These days even the respected PBS science series NOVA occasionally airs like an unscripted drama. To create the documentary film Love Iranian-American Style director Tanaz Eshaghian recorded over the years her family’s quixotic quest to find her a suitable husband. The result has the charming humor of My Big Fat Greek Wedding layered over the educational substance of a college course in sociology.
Early in the filmmaker's interviews with the politely distraught Eshaghian clan, we find out that Tanaz, unlike other women in her Jewish-Iranian family, has no use for the strictures of traditional matrimony. She won't marry this doctor or that businessman and have children in her early twenties. She was raised in America and she wants to marry for love.
Realistic about Iranian men's fondness for marrying younger women, the family is worried that if their Tanaz delays much longer her suitors will disappear. In one scene a matchmaker offers to find Eshaghian an excellent Jewish-Iranian husband for $10,000. The director retorts that if she can't find a husband on her own in the next five years then maybe they could do business. “By then it would cost you $100,000,” sighs the matchmaker to roaring laughter from the theater audience.
Eshaghian’s comedy is dark. Throughout we are laughing at pain. The pain of guilt and embarrassment for disappointing her clan, and the pain of a traditional family seeing how Western individualism has contaminated their daughter’s psyche with dissatisfaction. She can no longer look at a rich, handsome suitor from her own social class and think “I could grow to like him.” Having breathed American egalitarianism most of her life, she can only see him as a loser too sissy to ask, “who am I, and what do I really want?”
In answering that question about herself Eshaghian scores her artistic victory in this film. To our surprize we find out that she has also documented her failures in finding love outside of tradition. In a moving display of honesty, she interviews ex-lovers about why the relationship didn't go anywhere. Ironically, her previous boyfriends were turned off by her push for commitment and her mental checklist of qualifications they felt they had to meet. One of them even thought he wasn't rich enough for her. All this time she thought she was running away from the traditions of her clan, she was really just circling back to familiar territory.
In a work of fiction this realization would resolve the plot, setting off the events towards a happy ending. But this is real life. New understanding takes a long time to catch up with who we have become. In Eshaghian’s childhood pictures we see a stubborn looking, rebellious little girl whose wide eyes are brimming with inquisitiveness. She has grown up to be a tall beauty with the same inquisitive eyes. But years of saying “Not good enough for me,” have left on her face--like a watermark—a subtle expression of haughty disapproval, as though the Universe is a cheap sale item she is about to throw back in the bin.
After the screening of her movie, I was introduced to Eshaghian and I told her I would be writing about her movie. “Oh,” she said, “Who do you write for?” That expression on her face made me feel embarrassed I couldn't say, "The New York Times.”