A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Encourages independence and equal rights for women and girls. Stresses importance of allowing women to participate in all parts of society. Idea that women deserve to be respected is discussed several times. Integrity, courage, perseverance are all major themes.
Positive Role Models
Maryam is brave, determined, disciplined, persistent. She knows odds are against her but still commits to running for local council. She doesn't let men tell her what to do, scare her off, or "mansplain" to her. She asserts herself confidently in various situations. Maryam's sisters (especially Sara) are occasionally cross with her because of the gossip surrounding her campaign, but they're ultimately supportive and helpful, particularly Selma. The girls' father is a devoted musician working toward re-normalizing public performances, but he's not always present for his daughters. Omar is a patient, supportive friend.
Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour sheds light on types of challenges that face educated young Muslim women in Saudi Arabia. Sympathetic to their struggle, she still presents nuance through different female perspectives: e.g., Maryam's younger sister doesn't want her to run for municipal office, and women wear a range of hijab in public, from loose headscarves to more conservative niqab. Diversity can also be seen among Saudis, such as religious extremists (not depicted, but spoken of) who protest the concerts that Maryam's father plays. And an Afro-Saudi wedding singer appears in multiple scenes among a cast that's otherwise almost entirely light-skinned.
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Violence & Scariness
Omar's grandfather is upset that his doctor is a woman; he lashes out from his stretcher, nearly hitting her. Discussion of the sisters' father's depression since their mother's death. Maryam tells a hypothetical story of what would happen if an injured child couldn't get to the clinic because of the unpaved road. Musicians are advised to cancel a couple of their performances because of threats/safety concerns. Shouting, insults.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Subtle flirting between two adults. Married couples hold hands on their wedding day.
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"Damn," "Keep her away from me," "Don't look me in the eyes," "country hick," "nuts," etc. Maryam's younger sister says people are calling Maryam "impudent," "shameless," "showing herself off to men," "humiliating," etc., on social media.
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Products & Purchases
Maryam's new Hyundai Accent sedan is prominently featured.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
In one scene, Maryam's father smokes in the home around his three daughters.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Perfect Candidate is a contemporary drama from director Haifaa Al-Mansour about a determined young female Saudi doctor who ends up running for municipal council. Despite the improbability of a woman candidate winning in a country where traditional gender roles are the norm, Dr. Maryam Alsafan (Mila Al Zahrani) commits to her campaign, trying to convince not just women but men, too, that a vote for her is in everyone's best interest. The movie doesn't focus on the oppression of women's rights in Saudi Arabia but rather on how frustrating the slow acceptance of women in a formerly male-dominated space can be -- whether it's in the medical field or local politics. There isn't much iffy content, with the exception of the anti-feminist comments that local men make about women who work and "what kind of woman" would run for office. The same men make derogatory comments about Maryam's late mother, who was a singer, and her father, who's a musician. An injured grandfather at first refuses to be treated by a female doctor unless he's sedated/asleep. A group of men is scandalized when Maryam speaks directly to them. Families with older tweens and teens will have a lot to discuss after watching -- about women's rights, the role of music in society, the importance of breaking barriers, and negotiating cultural differences. The movie is in Arabic, with English subtitles for U.S. release. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Director Haifaa Al-Mansour once again explores the complexities of being a woman (or girl) in Saudi Arabia through a charmingly direct and confident main character who subverts the status quo. Maryam, in some ways, could be Wadjda all grown up: an intelligent, independent young woman who knows what she's capable of and accepts that she'll have to overcome challenges to succeed. Al Zahrani is excellent as Maryam: She's endearingly straightforward, outspoken, and undeterred by naysayers. She's got a purpose, whether it's looking for a bigger-city job or campaigning to a group of male voters. In one subplot, she keeps bumping into Omar (Tareq Al Khaldi), the handsome grandson of a cantankerous clinic patient. Omar assists Maryam, and he seems interested in her candidacy -- and her -- but this isn't a romance, even if Maryam's sisters Selma and Sara keep winking at his contributions to her campaign.
The sisters themselves represent a microcosm of Saudi society: Older sister Selma (Dae Al Hilali) is an ambitious wedding photographer/videographer, and younger sister Sara (Nora Al Awadh) is more traditional and resentful of the gossip that Maryam's campaign has stirred up. (It's implied that the sisters aren't desirable matches because they're the children of musicians in a culture where some people believe that music and singing should be forbidden). Al-Mansour follows the father's band's tour, where he expresses hope that social mores are changing to become more accepting of musical performances again. The music is beautiful, and that storyline demonstrates how change comes at a cost (the men are advised to cancel a few stops because of security concerns). Despite its criticism of aspects of Saudi society, The Perfect Candidate also depicts the joy the sisters feel surrounded by their women friends, the sense of purpose Maryam gets at work, and the hope for a better, fairer day.
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