There's a lot to appreciate about the inspiring coming-of-age drama "Margarita With a Straw" despite several seemingly avoidable flaws. Most compelling: a wonderful lead turn by Kalki Koechlin as Laila, a spirited Indian college student with cerebral palsy.
Laila's physical and emotional journey here is extensive, perhaps overly so, once writer-director Shonali Bose's script moves Laila, who is loosely based on the filmmaker's cousin, from Delhi to study at New York University.
Given that the film's lengthy, India-set first act spends much time dealing with wheelchair-user Laila's unrequited love for a male classmate, it's not entirely credible when, soon after arriving in Manhattan, she falls for a forthright young blind woman, Khanum (Sayani Gupta, also quite good).
Although Laila and Khanum's ongoing romance is lovely, it feels borne more out of Laila's aching need to connect than out of any real organic desire. Her flirtation with fellow student Jared (William Moseley), a kindly, handsome Brit, undercuts — and confuses — matters.
Still, despite other underexplored strands — Laila's musical inclinations, her devoted mother's concealed illness, the finer points of Laila and Khanum's disabilities — Koechlin gives such a remarkably warm, expressive performance (she and Gupta are non-disabled) it's hard not to be captivated by much of this tender, if choppy film.
As for the offbeat title: That's how Laila orders her favorite cocktail.
'Margarita With a Straw'
In Hindi and English with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes