Sunday, March 25, 2007

'Namesake' is both epic and intimate

My freelance review:
The Namesake is the kind of movie that I wish we would see more of: An engrossing, character-focused human drama with an appealing and entertaining story.

In this day and age of big-budget, mainstream movies overly-reliant on computer-generated characters and effects -- too often at the expense of focus paid on a core story -- it's refreshing to find a movie that revolves around character and story -- and delivery.

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jhumpa Lahiri, Namesake tells a story of a just-married Indian couple who, in 1977, say goodbye to their family and friends and move to New York City where the husband, Ashoke, has a new job. The wife, Ashima, keeps house and adjusts to life in a tiny apartment.

Soon, the couple starts a family and moves to the suburbs, and the story leaps ahead and focuses on their first-born -- a son named Gogol -- and his struggles and conflict balancing his family's Indian traditions amongst his desires to be a "typical American" teenager and young man.

As Ashoke and Ashima, Irfan Khan and Tabu deliver stunning, understated performances. Kal Penn (Kumar from Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle) shines as Gogol transitioning through phases of his young adulthood.

Namesake is quite effective dealing with aspects of culture. It offers intriguing insights into Indian culture and customs, and when U.S. and Indian customs clash, there is humor but not the kind of looniness offered by My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Ultimately, this is an epic -- but intimate -- film. There's a lot to reflect on from the overall story and the way that director/producer Mira Nair tells it. That is helped, by the way, from some of the most beautiful and powerful cinematography I've seen in a long time (credit to Frederick Elmes) as well by Stephanie Carroll's respectful production design details.

On a side-note: This film makes me want to visit India and experience what it has to offer -- which, I think, is in keeping with the film's general themes of seeing, living and being.

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