Movie theaters are outlawed in Saudi Arabia, and women's rights are deeply restricted, so Wadjda, the first feature film shot entirely in the kingdom, and the first directed by a Saudi woman, was always going to be a remarkable film. It's also a very good one, critics overwhelmingly agree—as of this writing, the limited release film is at 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. Here's what people are saying:
- "Not only is this a deftly crafted and superbly acted film, but Wadjda sheds a powerful light on what women face … in an oppressive regime," writes Claudia Puig at USA Today. Yet it never becomes "a sociological lecture." Director Haifaa al-Mansour "has crafted a vividly multidimensional film that sidesteps predictability."
- Even once you've gotten over the novelty of the film's creation, you'll find "that the pic transcends mere surprise value and delivers a winning, handsomely crafted story," writes Jay Weissberg at Variety. Its pre-teen lead, Waad Mohammed, "captivates with a palpable confidence: Her T-shirt proudly proclaims, 'I am a Great Catch!,' and she is."
- "Just seeing life in Riyadh is a revelation," writes Alan Scherstuhl at the Village Voice. Al-Mansour "frames the city's slab-like structures … and then sets the kids loose to dash around and through them." Wadjda is unflinching in its depiction of oppression, but its "appreciation for the hopefulness of children keep[s] all this from becoming too grim to bear."
- But while the film's depictions of oppression are "thoroughly involving," Kenneth Turan at the LA Times found the plot, which centers around the title character's quest to buy a bicycle, to be "as standard as it sounds," and Wadjda herself to be "a cliché rebel." We're lucky to have the film, he writes, "but it's hard not to wish the result was even better."