The Unicorn Scale: The Persian Version

By Jennie Roberson

July 08, 2024



Photo credit: Image/Netflix

Hey there, my lovely Unicorns! How are things going? Ooh, your horn looks extra pointy. Did you just get it sharpened? Nice. With Rocco? Awesome. I always get my horn sharpened at Rocco. Best in the business.

Have you ever had a saying stick with you, even if you don't remember who said it? Recently, I heard, "You’ll never know your parents like their friends did before you." This resonated deeply while I digitized family photos. Seeing my parents' lives before parenthood — my dad as a joyful toddler on a tractor, my mom ice skating and at school dances — was beautiful and overwhelming. It made me appreciate the full lives they led before my siblings and I came along.

I found myself thinking about that saying as I watched the 2023 independent film, The Persian Version, which has found a home on Netflix. But why am I writing about all this here? Read on.

But before I get into the dirty details, I should go over some disclaimers. First and foremost, there will be SPOILERS for this intergenerational coming-of-age comedy-drama. I should give some content warnings, including but not limited to adultery, traumatic birth scenes, family drama, some homophobia and biphobia, and a stillbirth. If you are sensitive to these types of issues, please take caution before viewing this film. Finally, if this is your first time around the Unicorn Scale (welcome!), you may want to check out our metric over here. Or you can find our entry on this film in our new Bi Media section.

All set? Then off we go!

The Persian Version centers on Leila (Layla Mohammadi), the only girl in a family of eight boys from an Iranian immigrant family living in Jersey. After the heart transplant of her father brings together all of her family members — including her mother Shireen (Niousha Noor) with whom Leila has a fraught relationship — a secret is revealed that changes the family forever.


What I Liked:

Leila is a vibrant, engaging bi lead bursting with humor, ambition, heart, and personality. Leila is as smart as a whip and has a quick wit to boot. It’s wonderful to see a bi female character who is multidimensional, deliberately queer, and who is a joy to watch as she narrates her life and discoveries. I also want to note that writer/director Maryam Keshavarz is bi and drew a lot of the inspiration for this story from her life and her mother’s life.

Regarding her bisexuality, I appreciate how it played out. Initially, Leila claims to be a lesbian, which causes tension with her mother. However, she hooks up with a man on Halloween and gets pregnant. Despite insisting it was a one-time thing, there's a clear attraction between them when they go on a follow-up date for dumplings.


But Leila is not the only one who gets a boatload of humanity written into her bones. The story of her mother, Shireen, as Leila learns about the true scandal that brought her to America, and the sheer amount of work and brilliance she did once she got to the States to both thrive and provide, gives far more dimension than is usually afforded to this type of maternal character. Even the other members of the family, while their sketches are a bit broader, still get an undercurrent of snarky love as they gather together with the hope of their father successfully recovering from heart surgery. They all get a moment to shine.

There is also plenty to recommend The Persian Version that doesn’t have to do with its queerness (though I love that Leila’s queerness is part of the narrative but not the sole focus of her development). There is plenty of comedy, social commentary, and heartache to make a full sweep of the cinematic experience. There's something for everyone to love here!

What I Didn’t Like:

As is often the case, I do wish that someone somewhere in the final version of the film had used the term “bisexual”, because that’s clearly what Leila is. Sure, the latest the storyline is set in is in the 2000s, but still — the word was known and used by then in Jersey! But all that said, I have definitely known women like Leila, who have come out once as lesbian and then realized that their sexuality was on a different part of the spectrum than that, and didn’t want to go through the rollercoaster of coming out again — especially when family members didn’t take it too well the first time around.

The Rating:

The Persian Version really does end up being a film with both laugh-out-loud moments and scenes that pull at the heartstrings — sometimes at the same time — without cheapening or undercutting the other. It’s a delicate balance and one that Keshavarz pulls off with aplomb. We may never truly know our parents, but we can try, and we can certainly give each other grace.

3.5 unicorn emojis