“Remember, if you freak out, I’ll get hurt. And I don’t want to get hurt.” That’s the advice that lead character Zaynab, played by Fawzia Mirza, hears from her wrestling coach before getting body-slammed in Signature Move. The line also serves as a kind of broader warning in the Chicago-centered comedy about the anxieties of 30-something romance.
The movie, which Mirza cowrote with filmmaker Lisa Donato, traces the intersecting lives and queer love affair of Zaynab, a Pakistani American lawyer and wannabe Lucha Libre wrestler, and Alma (Sari Sanchez), a Mexican American bookstore owner. Shot in just 18 days on a budget of about $250,000, Signature Move is a sweet but never saccharine love letter to Chicago, with much of the movie filmed on Devon Avenue and in Little Village. “It’s a universal story set against a space that doesn’t get much exposure in Chicago,” says Brian Hieggelke, who coproduced the project with Eugene Park through Hieggelke’s New City Chicago Film Project, an incubator for movies made locally.
Mirza, who was a litigator before turning to acting full-time at 29, based the story on a real-life relationship. The West Loop resident started researching luchadoras after appearing as a guest with former WWE wrestler Lisa Marie Varon on a local talk show in 2013. Says Mirza: “I thought, Mexican Americans and Pakistani Americans have so much in common: our mothers, our cultures. What if another connection was wrestling?”
Since premiering in March at South by Southwest, Signature Move has been met with accolades, including a grand jury prize for best U.S. narrative feature at Outfest in Los Angeles. Mirza has a theory why: “It’s a feminist, queer, powerful female story that’s radical because it normalizes everybody and all identities.” And nobody gets hurt.