Rarely have I seen a movie try so hard to hit all the cultural clichés and stereotypes of an Indian-American fusion attempt as does this Aasif Mandvi starring foodie film ?Today?s Special? (subtitle: Trust Me as actually written on the Daily Special?s board for naïve passers-by/us to see). From the get go we have a cast that is manned by Harish Patel (role reprised from British success ?Run Fat Boy, Run) as the dad, Food Goddess Marhur Jaffery as the mom, and bankable stalwart Naseruddin Shah who rounds off the list by playing the older teacher-cum-father-figure who ultimately enables the reconciliation of the actual father and son in the penultimate scene of the movie.
Along the way, Aasif?s culinary preparations as sous-chef are first found wanting for lacking heart (or ?not giving him a hard-on?, as his main chef chastises). So when that honor, and the job that Aasif was coveting, goes to a sordidly young 25-year old, Aasif quits in disgust. In a move seemingly lifted straight from the ?lie about the first-thing-I-see? pantheon, Aasif tells his co-worker (and soon to be love interest that he had verbally bitch-slapped before) that he plans to head to gay Paris and do a stage with the French ?cooking greats?. Enter Shah as the quasi-mystical brown taxi-driver in New York (ratio 2:3 of brown: non-brown) - who quite coincidentally happens to pick up Mandvi on the VERY day he slips into unemployment. Shah says he used to be a chef back in the day in the Motherland and drops his business card off with Mandvi after drunk-driving his through the streets of NYC.
The (race)card, of course, is going to pop up again just past the mid-way point when Aasif is in the ignoble position of phoning ANOTHER Indian restaurant to supply patrons at his father?s restaurant with food because he told the orange-bearded (and hence devout-Muslim) chef to ?fuck-off? - causing his to quit. But before we get there, there?s GOT to be enough time for the ?pictures of prospective South-Asian brides? greatest hits. Mother and father are sad that their only remaining son (because other, more promising kid died young of course!) is a wastrel who can bear them no children because he?s not interested in marriage. Dad has a massive coronary failure (?heart-attack scene? for those using the cliché- counter) and poor Aasif is guilted into running the restaurant while his father recovers.
There?s clearly got to be a inter-racial romantic angel to this Hollywood-Bollywood staple for it to be put in the all time formulaic canon (subscript: hero and heroine (almost) kissing must be the very last scene or else it?s an insta-disqualification) . The chemistry between the romantic leads is dubious, but the contrived and LITERAL accidental re-meeting is in there, so screw it (plus I like Jess Weixler and the cutie pie who plays her baby daughter :) Thus, in time for the final scene, they sack up, and get together for the sake of love (of the restaurant, silly) but only after a favorable the 3 star review in the NYT. By the end, I was primed and ready for the slow-clap cascading into thunderous applause when Aasif is called into his triumphantly redeemed dining hall filled with New York scenesters (and the friendly old Jewish couple from round the corner naturally).
Sadly, Mandvi?s acting is characterized by an unendearing awkwardness at times as well as a lack of emotional depth (repertoire ranging mostly from ?comically angry? to ?lovably sad?). Interestingly, this is the perfect set-up for his appearances on the Daily Show ? which is where I think he?s the best placed right now (playing the irony-spewing and hypocrisy-exposing Muslim-American fall guy to Jon Stewart?s faux-establishmentarianism). In the end, besides some cute moments from the old-boys who play side-roles (as cricket-loving, wife-hating old Indian regulars Shah and Patel - again, the commonest names and characterizations in/of India), I think the fact that the restaurant in question is called Tandoori Palace should tell you all you need to know about how generic this move might taste...