‘Jinn’ Review: A Not So Typical Coming-of-Age Story

‘Jinn’ Review: A Not So Typical Coming-of-Age Story

The strain of a parent-child bond during adolescence — this is the stuff of plenty of coming-of-age movies, from “Rebel Without a Cause” to, more recently, “Eighth Grade.” This is also the stuff of “Jinn,” the writer and director Nijla Mu’min’s promising feature debut about a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, delivered with a refreshing perspective on generational and cultural clashes.

At the film’s opening, life is good for Summer (Zoe Renee), an outgoing and impulsive Los Angeles high school senior. She and her two best friends are choreographing a number for the talent show; she’s applied to California Institute of the Arts; and she flirts unabashedly with a cute pizza server. (The better to land a couple of extra pepperonis on her slice without an upcharge.)

Then her single mother, Jade (Simone Missick), shakes up her easygoing life. Summer is shocked to learn Jade has officially joined a mosque and is converting to Islam. Jade has always been something of a restless spirit in search of an identity, jumping from one intense interest to the next. (Even Summer’s father, played by Dorian Missick, suggests Jade is just going through a phase.)

It’s unusual that the parent is the one who undergoes such a life-altering transformation in a bildungsroman, which makes “Jinn” especially intriguing. Following her father’s advice, Summer decides to attend mosque with Jade, at least until she leaves for college. It’s not long, however, before the teenager becomes drawn to some of the rituals and ideas of the Muslim faith — particularly jinn, the supernatural beings made of fire who can take on both human and animal form.

For Summer, the exploration of Islam hardly means readily accepting the faith’s more conservative teachings, but rather, trying to strike a balance. She still bares her midriff, smokes weed and drinks at house parties, while wearing a hijab that often only partly covers her funkily dyed curls.

Her sartorial experimentation frustrates Jade (who, as a meteorologist for a local news station, deals with her own internal struggles over comfort in wearing her head scarf in public) and at one point, Summer’s testing of the boundaries between religion and her own self-expression leads to an embarrassing social media snafu. But Mu’min, who based “Jinn” in part on her own upbringing, approaches her protagonist’s journey of self-discovery with a delicate sense of wonder and a striking lack of moral judgment. A range of characters show Summer there are many ways to be a Muslim, including Tahir (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a classmate and love interest whose parents are less strict in their practice than others.

“Jinn” may end a little too neatly after challenging so many of the conventions of its genre, but it’s easy enough to look past. As Summer and Jade, Renee and Missick give grounded, lovely performances, tapping into the characters’ needs to be seen and accepted for who they are, and who they are becoming. When Mu’min focuses her camera on the mother or daughter studying herself in a mirror, she effectively shows them pondering the weight of what it means to be a black girl or woman, and to wear a hijab in school or at work. These are ostensibly unremarkable choices — embracing one’s sexuality, embracing one’s faith — that nevertheless bring with them the possibility of unfavorable implications and “other”-ing in today’s present climate. The fact that they make those choices at all is a sign of resilience.

Jinn

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes.

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