Tag Archives: B

MONSOON WEDDING

Robert Altman’s “A Wedding” is done up in the extravagant style of Indian popular moviemaking in the new film by Mira Nair (“Salaam Bombay,” “Mississippi Masala,” “Kama Sutra”). The result is a vibrantly colorful, feel-good ensemble piece, generally genial in tone but with some dark undercurrents. Ultimately it’s too episodic and flighty to stay in the memory for long, but it should keep you gleefully entertained (and occasionally moved) while it’s unspooling.

Set in a New Dehli suburb, “Monsoon Wedding” centers on a hard-driving businessman named Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) who, along with his more subdued wife Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), is preparing for the arranged wedding of his daughter Aditi (Vasundhara Das) to a Houston engineer, Hemant (Parvin Dabas). The entire extended family is congregating for the nuptials, which are being prepared by Dubey (Vijay Raaz), a slickly ambitious caterer who, in a counterpoint to the central coupling, falls for the family’s shy, lovely maid Alice (Tilotama Shome). Among the relatives on hand are Lalit’s young son Uday (Rahul Vohra), whom his father thinks too soft; beautiful cousin Ayesha (Neha Dubey), who takes up with handsome student Rahul (Randeep Hooda), just returned from school in Australia; another cousin, unmarried Ria (Shefali Shetty); and the family’s wealthiest member, Tej Puri (Rajat Kapoor), a smooth operator with a sinister smile that makes him look like a leering Peter Sellers. Ria and Tej, it eventually becomes clear, share a secret which the former struggles with as she sees Tej exhibiting an ostensibly avuncular interest in an adolescent family member. Eventually her revelations will force Lalit to grapple with how to treat his greatest benefactor while maintaining his own integrity.

Much of “Monsoon Wedding” is of interest from a purely cultural perspective: it’s intriguing to watch as ceremonies and rituals so unlike those to which most Americans are accustomed are carefully arranged. But the point that the picture eventually makes is how strongly Indian traditions have been affected by the west. One can see this not only in the opening shots of local television, in which Aditi works behind the scenes of a garish talk show (with whose marrried producer she’s having an affair–a circumstance which will obviously threaten the wedding), but in persistent grace notes, such as the obsessive interest that Dubey’s mother, whom we glimpse only briefly, has in her stock market portfolio. The characters who fall most clearly in the uncomfortable divide between tradition and westernization are Hermant and Rahul, whose years away from their native land have changed their attitudes without entirely erasing them. They would seem the natural stand-ins for Nair, who studied at Harvard as well as Delhi University; but the linchpin of the narrative is surely Lalit, whose insistence on observing the expected forms will be challenged by the dilemma Ria’s revelations will create for him. How far, the film implicitly asks, can tradition be bent without being lost? Where does the happy medium lie? The picture ends with a traditional ceremony, but one that showcases changed attitudes, too.

“Monsoon Wedding” is aided immeasurably by its brisk pacing, Nair’s dexterity in shifting tone without the result seeming forced, and her estimable cast, whose members skirt the line of overstatement from time to time but never completely cross it. Technically the film maintains a homely feel without looking unprofessional. Ultimately there’s a calculation to some of its plot twists that’s a bit off-putting, but Nair gives it sufficient charm, and Shah the dramatic grounding, to make it an engaging, evocative and intermittently powerful ensemble piece.

BIG FAT LIAR

The old fable about the boy who cried wolf has been refashioned on screen so often by now (one of the niftiest versions was the 1949 thriller “The Window”) that a new variant hardly seems a very promising prospect, especially when it’s turned into a teen comedy. But “Big Fat Liar” confounds expectations and turns out to be one of the happiest surprises so far this year–an amusing, pleasantly old-fashioned piece enlivened by a good cast (even if they play too broadly at times) and boasting some clever bits. Amazingly enough, in a day and age when live-action pictures aimed at young audiences seem to exist on a stream of gooey substances and mild potty jokes, this effort from writer Dan Schneider and director Shawn Levy–both alumni of the Nickolodeon Network–happily eschews that sort of stuff and coasts along on a wave of good, clean fun.

The plot of the movie is hardly ground-breaking. Fourteen-year old Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) is a prolific teller of tall tales who employs his overly active imagination and ready tongue to trick teachers and parents alike. When one of his scams gets him into so much trouble that he’s threatened with having to repeat a class in summer school, he pens a compensatory story called “Big Fat Liar,” about the trouble an addiction to falsehood can cause, that will earn him a passing grade; but in an admittedly contrived bit of business it’s appropriated by a Hollywood producer, Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), the nastiest man in Hollywood, as the basis for a potential summer blockbuster–which he desperately needs to save an endangered career. Jason’s father refuses to believe the boy’s tale about losing his work to a cinematic mogul and no longer has faith in his son (who’s put into a dreary hot-weather class), and so Jason and his girlfriend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) travel to Hollywood to get the producer to admit what he’s done. Wolf’s refusal leads them to concoct a series of elaborate humiliations designed to persuade the producer to give in and restore his father’s trust in Jason; in the process they enlist the help of the many enemies Marty’s made in the business over the years. In the end, of course, Jason learns that honesty is the best policy and Marty gets his comeuppance.

Though the narrative might be trite, Schneider–himself a former actor–gives it enough little twists and shadings (and some nice Hollywood in-jokes) that it’s pretty consistently funny, and Levy shapes things quite skillfully (apart from moments like a musical montage when Jason and Kaylee try on costumes from a studio warehouse they break into–a sort of mugging contest that overstays its welcome). He doesn’t keep his lead actors in sufficient check, though, so that their performances, while basically good, tend to go too far over the top. Muniz and Bynes are both attractive, engaging kids with real talent, and throughout they remain extremely likable; but Muniz does pop out his eyes and seem a bit smug from time to time (it’s his “Malcolm in the Middle” shtick, which is better suited to the small screen), and Bynes sometimes takes the role- playing aspects of her character a bit far. Giamatti is even more unrestrained, chewing the scenery so ferociously that the very word subtlety seems to have disappeared from his thespian vocabulary; still, he gets the job done. The supporting turns by Amanda Detmer (as Wolf’s harried assistant), Donald Faison (as a chauffeur and would-be actor) and even Lee Majors (as an aging stuntman) are more laid-back; the same can’t be said of Jaleel “Urkel” White, who seems to be having a fine time lampooning himself as the star of Wolf’s latest big-budget debacle–but he gets some laughs.

What ultimately makes “Big Fat Liar” work is its general mood. Good-natured and easygoing (even the obligatory schoolyard bully is more benign than usual, and it’s pretty funny when he’s compelled to impersonate Kaylee to deceive her nearly-blind grandmother), the picture proves an amiable throwback to the earlier, better pictures of John Hughes, with a good deal of the charm of a “Sixteen Candles,” along with a milder variant of the slapstick violence familiar from “Home Alone.” (One will recognize shards of “Ferris Bueller” here, too–an older woman in a car who stalls traffic, the boring teacher whose droning delivery is reminiscent of Ben Stein’s.) The result is an energetic family flick that should appeal to the adolescent set while providing a good time for their elders, too.