”Layla” is Belle of the Ball at 2024 Sundance Festival

Writer/director Amrou Al-Kadhi’s title character of Layla (B-) is a Muslim drag performer in East London with a one-of-a-kind story to tell in one of several Sundance Film Festival 2024 entries focused on queer identity. Bilal Hasna is mostly sensational in the central role of what is ostensibly a romance film, playing opposite Louis Greatorex, who has a more conventional and mainstream way of presenting himself to society. Opposite such a complex persona, this boyfriend hardly stands a chance. Constantly negotiating several dimensions of identity in one fabulous vessel, Hasna’s Layla is a fascinating portrait, augmented by marvelous costumes, kaleidoscopic parties and music that could be just a little bit better. Saltburn has nothing on this film’s stilettos as the movie balances a walk on the wild side with romcom tropes. Somewhat flimsy writing and fleeting characters threaten to derail the perfectly good pairing at the film’s center, but Layla prevails. Layla’s story deserved just a little bit better but is still an absorbing, singular and fierce wonder to behold.

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