Thank G-d “Leona” is not your typical rom-com. Of course, it has the requisite elements: annoying matchmakers, a meet-cute, great sex, breakups and haircuts. But it’s no predictable homage to love and marriage. Populated with people that could easily be plucked from your newsfeed, “Leona” follows Ariela, a 25-year-old creative spirit challenging the modus operandi of a hundred years.
Leona, which means lioness in Spanish, has the courage to tell Ariela’s love story under its breath, in the moments of silence that only she hears. Rather than dialing up her voice to compete with the cacophony of nuptial expectations swirling around her, the film grounds her internal dialog in the medium’s strongest element: visual composition.
Rom-coms derive their best qualities from the inevitable collisions within too little space or too little time. In that vein, Leona tracks with the best of them, drawing out a charming heroine’s journey in poignant relief against a milieu crowded with self-important grandmothers, childhood friends, interfering cousins, and last night’s empty bottles.
And though its allegiance lies with the protagonist, these supporting characters appear with fine enough detail to introduce competing perspectives. Regardless of our own particulars, we recognize ourselves, our friends, and our families in every scene. And maybe, our chance to be a lion or lioness.
Jessica Matthews is a 30-something cinephile who first volunteered so she could see indie films for free, but ended up head over heels for AJFF.