Nair juggles comedy and drama to mixed results

The Namesake

on March 09, 2007 by Susan Green
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An interesting collision of cultures and generations gives way to a treatise on the quirky nobility of people from the Indian subcontinent in The Namesake, Mira Nair's sentimental new feature. Adapted from a novel by 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, the film is most appealing as Gogol (Kal Penn) suffers through years of teenage alienation. Born in America to emigre parents, the boy just wants to fit in with his pot-smoking peers. That's difficult when you have a strange literary moniker, bestowed in honor of the early 19th-century Russian author admired by his engineering professor father Ashoke (Irfan Khan). In earlier scenes, Ashoke is reading Nikolai Gogol's short stories on a train when it crashes. After recovering from his severe injuries, weds Ashima (Tabu) in Calcutta.

Resettled in New York City, the couple also has a Goth-looking daughter (Sahira Nair), but the saga primarily focuses on Gogol, who eventually decides to call himself Nik. The kid never quite finds common ground with Ashoke before attending Yale, becoming an architect and hooking up with a blonde, Max (Jacinda Barrett), from an upscale WASP family. Before you can say “stick to your own kind,” a tragedy propels him into the arms of his ancestral homeland. A subsequent marriage to Moushimi (Zuleikha Robinson), a fellow Bengali with similar assimilation issues and a penchant for Paris, does not necessarily spell happiness.

Nair approaches this rich material with an apparent desire to please the crowd, often obstructing the balance of dramatic tension and comic relief. The lighter moments are delivered with skill by Penn, a Harold & Kumar star equally at ease conveying the requisite Namesake angst. The cast as a whole excels, in fact, and the sumptuous cinematography by Frederick Elmes helps rescue a movie that should have been better than it is. Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Kal Penn, Irfan Khan, Tabu, Jacinda Barrett, Zuleikha Robinson and Sahira Nair
Director: Mira Nair
Screenwriter: Sooni Taraporevala
Producers: by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Mira Nair
Genre: Drama; English-, Bengali- and Hindi-languages, subtitled
Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use, some disturbing images and brief language
Running time: 119 min.
Release date: March 9, 2007

Tags: Kal Penn, Irfan Khan, Tabu, Jacinda Barrett, Zuleikha Robinson, Sahira Nair, Mira Nair, Sooni Taraporevala, Lydia Dean Pilcher and Mira Nair, Drama
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