New DVD O' The Week
I'm a little embarassed that I'd pick this kind of Oscar-bait in a week that included I Know Who Killed Me, Skin Walkers, Drunken Angel, Hot Rod and Who's Your Caddy? (never got around to watching Paprika or Guy X), but sometimes you have to admit that there are things better than trashy crap. For instance, the story of an Indian couple raising a family in New York. A boy becoming a man! Earnest, generation-spanning shit like that.
Kal Penn is ostensibly the star of the film, but Irfan Khan and Tabu's portrayal of his immigrant parents are what make the film rewarding. Their exchanges are probably some of the most memorably romantic I've seen in a recent film, not due to sexual intensity or saccharine effect, but rather the kindness and kinship they reveal. The growth of their connection is laid out so delicately that its annoying when Kal Penn, as their son Gogol, first appears as an unsympathetic, rebellious teen. Allegedly Penn got the role because Mira Nair's children are die-hard Kumar fans, and while he's not charmless (he's right behind Michael Cera in a lot of friends' comedy stud top 10s), he fails to show any of Irfan Khan's attractive gravity, coming off collegiate even when Gogol's allegedly five years into a marriage.
Aside from location and knocking the storyline up a decade, Leila says the movie is pretty faithful to the book, and I wish they'd been willing to diminish Gogol's importance in order to acknowledge Penn's comparative lack of range. A performer needs to be transfixing if we're to connect with their character in a film that jumps rapidly through periods of time. When Penn becomes the film's focus, the film ironically seems to lose a dimension. It doesn't help that Penn's romantic partners are basically archetypes that flirt with being caricatures (WASP representive Jacinda Barrett shows up at a memorial service in an outfit that anyone would find inappropriate, Zuleikha Robinson's international jetsetter seems to have a different accent in every scene). I haven't seen Nair's other films, but I was surprised at how cursory and simplistic most of the female roles were; Gogol's relationships seem so superficial compared to his parents' that they only serve to alienate us from him. But part of the reason Gogol's appreciation of his parents' experience seems so protracted is that we experienced it for ourselves, and it's hard to regret that.
I promise I'll do capsule reviews of the other films I've watched the last two weeks or so soon, at least the ones I finished. Doesn't seem fair to Kurosawa's Drunken Angel or Big Boi's Who's Your Caddy? to pretend I know that the film didn't become more rewarding further in.