Friday, September 12, 2008

"Find" of the Month

It's always a delight to discover a wonderful, though little-known, movie that's gone straight to DVD or had almost no theatrical release -- one that gets nearly everything right while staying smart, entertaining and thought-provoking. The last such film I got this excited about was Setton/Schechter's The Big Bad Swim (DVD cover art shown above), released just over one year ago and which introduced us all to the lovely Jess Weixler, well before she sprouted those below-the-waist "Teeth."

It's excitation time again, and not a moment too soon (having seen a string of so-so-to-bummer films over the past couple of weeks: 88 Minutes, Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Redbelt, August, The Witman Boys, Street Kings, Freshman Orientation, Socket and the worst of the bunch, Prom Night. But now arrives with little fanfare a honey of a film about globalization, the work ethic, culture clash and more, acted to near-perfection and directed with a light touch that still manages to cover all the bases.

A cultural, socio-economic rom-com (they don't make that many of these), OUTSOURCED accomplishes a great deal in just 98 minutes, perhaps the most surprising of which is its gracious attitude toward a country (India) and an occupation (customer service/order fulfillment) that has many Americans, myself included, often climbing the walls. Yet the director/co-writer (with George Wing) John Jeffcoat is so very good about helping us see these workers and their culture through Indian eyes, as well as American, that one bridge after another is crossed happily, with wit, charm, and a little sadness before the film comes to its meaningful and deeply-felt finale. "Joy" is a word I don't toss around much in my reviews because it's something I've felt a distinct lack of lately, but "Outsourced" made me experience this -- and more than a few times along the way.

Jeffcoat and his casting people (Ellen Chenoweth, Kathleen Chopin and, in India, Uma Da Cunha) have done a yeoman job of finding actors who bring oodles of talent, charm (looks, too) to the proceedings. The under-rated Josh Hamilton (shown at top, whom I'll remember for his great performance in one of the best legit plays I've seen -- The Cider House Rules, Part I (NYC never got to see part 2: budget problems, we were told) -- does yet another amazing job. As usual, he's loose, funny and totally real, and here he does a spot-on rendition of the fish-out-of-water American abroad. His repartee with beautiful co-star Ayesha Dharker, in which he dons an Indian accent and she an American, is simply priceless.

I don't know nearly enough about Indian culture, but I have long felt anger and resentment about the seemingly set-in-stone class system. Yet the food-over-the-wall scenes in this movie, funny on the surface and disturbing underneath, do lead to an interesting meeting of class and culture that, for me, opened the door a crack as to how and why this class barrier continues. The sex scenes, too, offer much more than the usual skin and soft-focus: Instead we get humor -- and lots of it. This is, after all, a romantic comedy, but it is also one in which truth and believability trump any simple-minded insistence on happiness at all cost -- as happens in the better examples from this genre (My Best Friend's Wedding, Seven Girlfriends).

From the lengthy time it has taken to receive this film via the on-line rental services, it is clear that the movie is proving popular and has been under-stocked. So don't give up hope if it takes awhile to show up in your mailbox. Keep it at the top of your queue; it's worth the wait. Maybe the best thing I can say about "Outsourced" is that it actually has me looking forward to my next encounter with customer service in India.

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