More than 20 years after Thelma and Louise took a flying leap into the Grand Canyon, road conditions have not improved much for women traveling unescorted in the US. Such is the conclusion of French-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb’s first English-language film, “Just Like a Woman,” in which a pair of female fugitives quit their bellyaching for belly-dancing as they travel from Chicago to Santa Fe, performing at roadhouses along the way. What might have proven an illuminating perspective on familiar issues disappoints as Bouchareb fails to turn his outsider’s point of view into new insights, and instead takes the easy route, falling back on familiar stereotypes in his tour of US misogyny and xenophobia.
Americans aren’t alone in such prejudices, though. Arabs can be bigots, too, as the stifling household shared by Mona (Salma Hayek look-alike Golshifteh Farahani), her spineless husband Mourad (Roschdy Zem), and Mourad’s termagant mother (Chafia Boudraa) testifies. Brought from the old country in an arranged marriage, Mona has won her husband’s heart but has infuriated her mother-in-law — here the face of patriarchal despotism is female — because she has failed to bear Mourad a child. An unlikely accident (the story relies on dicey plot devices) compels Mona to hit the road, taking the first bus out of town.