Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Movie Review: The Namesake

This is not a movie I would normally have gone to. There's no space ships, no explosions, no schemes or twists, none of what I usually go see a movie for. But there WERE free tickets and a girl whose schedule I'd been trying to get on.

"The Namesake" is based on the book by the same name. Yeah, I hadn't heard of the book either.
I got a different impression of the movie from the trailer than what was shown. From the trailer I expected the movie to start with a late teen, American born Indian (dot, not feather) who was moody and sullen, hated India and his name and wanted to change his name. Then the father would start some long flashback scene telling about why he gave his son that name. There'd be a Lifetime Channel moment and the son would embrace his name and say to hell with what the Americans thought.

What really happened was similar to that. The movie starts in 1974ish as the father is riding on a train and reading Nicholai Gogol. The train crashes and he moves to America and two years later he marries and Indian woman that his family hooked him up with. Yeah, it really moves about that fast. They have a kid and name him Gogol when the hospital tells them they can't take the kid home without a name. In India they might take years to give him a real name.
The kid starts school at the age of 4 and decides he prefers the name Gogol to the one that his family tried to change it to. But when going off to college he decides he needs a less weird name and changes it to Nicholai. He meets some Barbie doll and spends all his time with her and her family ignoring his own. This continues until his father dies and he starts to reconnect with his Indian heritage. We assume he's broken up with Barbie since she never appears again and he marries some Indian girl. Eventually the Indian girl cheats on him and they divorce. Thus endeth the movie.
They do explain why the father named his son Gogol. The son knew that Gogol was his dad's favorite author but when his father elaborates it still comes off as "I was reading that author when I was the sole survivor of a train wreck." I have to assume that in the book it makes more sense. Probably using the train wreck as a rebirth moment. It probably would have made more sense if he'd named the son after the guy on the train who kept telling him to travel and see the world.

It helps if you see the movie with a bunch of Indians (dot) like we did. Their reactions help punctuate a few scenes since they'll get cultural humor that might slip past American audiences.

It was nice to see Kal Penn in a serious movie role instead of "Van Wilder" or "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" level of films.

Good movie, but I'm not getting it on DVD. It's just not my thing.

p.s. While looking up the spelling of "Nicholai" I found that I have one of Nicholai Gogol's books on my to-read shelf. Some day I'll get around to reading "Dead Souls". With a title like that how could I not pick it up?

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