An innocuous romantic comedy, “Shirin in Love” sets its slightly ditzy, definitely perky heroine on a path toward fulfillment that diverges from the expectations of her wealthy Beverly Hills Iranian-American milieu. This setting provides a superficial novelty that writer-helmer Ramin Niami doesn’t explore in any depth, while everything else is strictly formulaic — and tame enough that it might have passed muster for Doris Day and Rock Hudson 50 years ago. Pic opens Friday in 20 U.S. theaters (some screening a dubbed all-Farsi version), but that leap of faith is likely to pay off mostly in improved visibility for the VOD release likelier to locate an audience.
Perpetually running afoul of aspiring-novelist traffic cop Henderson (George Wallace) by running stop signs in her vintage VW, Shirin (Nazanin Boniadi) is an improbable former human-rights attorney who bowed to her family’s wishes, giving up that calling to work as book editor at the glossy lifestyle magazine owned by her mother, Maryam (Anita Khalatbari, with the permanently pursed, pillow-like lips and dyed blonde hair of Beverly Hills matronhood). Her engagement to amiable plastic surgeon Mike (comedian Maz Jobrani) also seems to be more of a family decision than a personal one. The pressure is on Shirin to drop her flimsy “career,” get married and start producing grandchildren ASAP.
A lightweight when it comes to liquor, Shirin gets a little too loosened up at a party Maryam throws and ends up fleeing in the car of handsome stranger William (Riley Smith). When she wakes up in his hotel bed the next morning — put there because she passed out before he could find out where she lives — he’s long gone, her virtue intact. Later she sets off on a road trip to find a reclusive bestselling novelist for a magazine feature; her car breaks down in a rainstorm on an idyllic stretch of oceanfront wine country, conveniently landing her at the doorstep of none other than said author, Rachel Harson (Amy Madigan).
In yet another whopping coincidence, Rachel’s son turns out to be guess who, also a writer, one who lives down the road in a lighthouse because (take a deep breath) he still waits for his lost-at-sea father to return some day. As if that weren’t hokey enough, the not-so-hermit-like-after-all Rachel — in fact, she’s about as daunting as an Avon lady — busies herself trying to matchmake between the two because, well, she’s terminally ill and wants to die knowing her son is happy.
Once all this is clear about halfway through, the pic ploddingly delays the inevitable, complete with obstacles brewed up by the increasingly villainous Maryam, a climactic bad-wedding interruptus, and good-wedding dance-off over the closing credits.
When not serving up sentimental contrivance, “Shirin in Love” is just tepidly cute, with wan comic situations and lines that provide little opportunity for a game-enough cast. The sitcomish feel is underlined by a bright, bland look whose aesthetic extends throughout the competent but uninspired tech/design package. There are some significant musicians and other figures in the current Iranian-American cultural landscape here (along with several songs by thesp Smith’s band Life of Riley), but for those previously unacquainted, the pic offers no cogent introduction.