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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hala is a coming-of-age story about Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan), a Muslim teen girl who deals with family drama as she begins to embrace and explore her budding sexuality. She comes to learn that you can be faithful yet still make mistakes -- which you can grow and move forward from. The film tackles religion, gender roles, the curiosity that accompanies the teen years, and the consequences of choices. There's also a positive focus on literature, academics, personal development, learning from your mistakes, and more. Having faith is presented in a mindful manner, yet the film doesn't shy away from addressing some of the oppressive social norms that can come along with religion. Sexual content includes a nongraphic, consensual encounter between teens and implied masturbation by a young woman. A teen also makes advances on an authority figure but is firmly rebuffed. A man slaps his teenage daughter, a wife seeks to divorce her husband, and there are moments of emotional turmoil. There's no swearing, drinking, smoking, or consumerism, and while matters of religion are central to the narrative, the film has a universal appeal.
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What's the story?
In HALA, a teenage Muslim girl named Hala (Geraldine Viswanathan) struggles with issues at home while she tests the boundaries of her faith and negotiates her curiosity about her body and growing desire for intimacy. While she's the apple of her father's eye, her mother's nagging is becoming the bane of her existence. But Hala soon learns that not everything is what meets the eye and that what she thinks she's ready for may not be what she imagines.
Is it any good?
This drama handles a teen girl's coming to terms with her budding sexuality and her strong religious beliefs with great care. Hala is soft in the places that it needs to be, it's well written, and it handles the intersection of religion, youth, and life lessons beautifully. The movie's tone is soft, poetic, earthy, and powerful. Under the direction of Minhal Baig, the film seamlessly shows many different points of view around the big topics of religion, marriage, tradition, and personal growth. The on-screen chemistry between Viswanathan and Jack Kilmer (as Hala's love interest, Jesse) is so mesmerizing and pure that it will make just about anyone reminiscence about their first love or intimate experience. Gabriel Luna gives an honest, believable performance as Hala's teacher, Mr. Lawrence, and Taylor Marie Blim -- playing Hala's friend Melanie -- emanates a trustworthiness that makes the girls' friendship quite endearing and seemingly genuine. As Hala's parents, Purbi Joshi and Azad Khan deliver solid turns as people struggling to find peace within the norms placed upon them by their traditions and cultural and religious beliefs. An emphasis on literature and the written word (as well as the spoken word) includes references to the works of Langston Hughes, Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House, and more. Many scenes take place in a writing class, and the power of releasing words verbally -- as well as putting pen to paper -- is a theme.
Many moments and themes within the movie encourage introspection and critical thinking about love, life, and identity. Through the character of Hala, viewers see the intersection of having both conviction and religion -- and how sometimes faith and religion can be in conflict with other desires. Through the dynamic of Hala's parents' marriage, viewers see the positive and negative consequences of tradition, as well as the often unfair responsibilities and ideals that are associated with gender roles. Hala is effective in conveying the message that you can follow a belief system that's at war with how you truly feel in your heart. The story gives a dignified young woman who happens to truly believe in Allah the space to fall short, be flawed, and still pick up the pieces of her life and evolve.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Hala demonstrates courage and compassion. What about her mother? In what ways does it take courage to have faith or practice a religion? Similarly, in what ways does it take courage to question religious practices and beliefs?
In the film, Hala recites the words "I am of two parts divided." What role does faith hold in upholding social norms and behavior? In the film, how are Hala's beliefs different from those of her parents' generation? In what ways is Hala's religion liberating for her? In what ways is it oppressive?
What role does literature play in Hala? In what ways does Hala's writing teacher inspire his students to exercise their writing skills? What books and authors are highlighted throughout this film?
What role does gender play in the film? Are there any unfair expectations placed upon one gender and not the other? Are Hala's parents oppressed by or resentful of their arranged marriage? Do you think that Hala's mother's having had an arranged marriage affects the way that she views her daughter? Herself?
In what ways are Hala and her mother different? Similar? In what ways do the character strengths of courage, communication, and compassion help restore their relationship?
- In theaters: November 22, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2019
- Cast: Geraldine Viswanathan, Jack Kilmer, Gabriel Luna
- Director: Minhal Baig
- Studio: Endeavor Content
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Character strengths: Communication, Courage, Empathy
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: a scene of sexuality
- Last updated: December 5, 2019
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