Joyland (2022)

Joyland (2022)

Heartbreaking and beautiful, this family drama deftly tackles gender roles and sexual dynamics in modern-day Pakistan

The Very Best



Pakistan, United States of America
Punjabi, urdu
Drama, Romance
Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada, Sania Saeed
127 min


A Biba performance at the Oscars would’ve saved the entire event and possibly changed lives, in my humble opinion.

What it's about

After he finally secures a job as a backup dancer for trans performer Biba (Alina Khan), Haider (Ali Junejo) explores his sexuality and defies rigid expectations in modern-day Pakistan.

The take

Joyland is groundbreaking on nearly all accounts. It’s the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and to be shortlisted for an Oscar. Its forthright depiction of trans life and gender identity provoked the ire of local authorities, but it also inspired a nationwide movement (#ReleaseJoyland) that fought against censorship. It’s understandable, then, if the film is remembered for these disruptive achievements alone, but it should be noted that Joyland, as it is, is simply a stunning piece of cinema. 

Every scene is beautifully blocked and vibrantly lit, like a painting come to life, and every one of them is rich with meaning; there’s not a second we’re not diving deeper into the wonderfully complex lives of these people, all of whom are exploring sexuality and independence as best they can in a restricted environment. And sure, Biba and Haider’s relationship takes center stage as it reveals the nuances of queer love, but Joyland just as deftly tackles toxic masculinity (and how it’s a specter that haunts Haider’s household), domestic labor (and how it largely goes unnoticed), and female solidarity (and how it can literally save a girl’s life). Heartbreaking and lovely, this a family saga in that it’s as much about Haider’s family as it is about him, and it’s a shame if it weren’t remembered as such. 

What stands out

Every time Biba dances, she steals the show; likewise, every time Khan delivers a line, no matter how serious or hilarious it may be, she steals the scene. She’s a transfixing presence here; strong, powerful, beautiful, and believable. I know I just argued that Joyland is more than just its trans lead actor, but she is (and I mean this in the best possible way) very hard to ignore. Khan is a star and she makes sure we know it every time she appears onscreen.


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