Thursday, November 18, 2010

TODAY'S SPECIAL? Mouth-watering food from Jackson Heights -- in a so-so movie

TODAY'S SPECIAL begins with a terrifically real and eventful scene set a swank Manhattan restaurant, as the food is being prepared and served to some very important people. The pacing, dialog, visuals -- everything works.  Later in the movie, as a feast of fine Indian food is first shopped for and then cooked to perfection (by the most interesting character in the film), you can practically smell the aroma as you salivate to the elegant, rich colors of the spices blending with vegetables and meat of this Masala recipe. I can't remember a movie that made me this hungry this often. The only problem? Everything that happens between these two scenes and which takes up half of our time.

God knows, clichés are not exactly foreign to Indian cinema, and I have to admit that this particular flmmaking group -- star and co-writer (with Jonathan Bines) Aasif Mandvi (above), director David Kaplan and their fine supporting cast -- get about as much mileage from the hoary plot and second-(no, third-)hand characterizations as possible: particularly the mother who lives only to see her son married, and the father who knows best despite all indications to the contrary, and who puts his son down at every opportunity.

That the actors who play the parent roles (Madhur Jaffrey -- above, right -- and Harish Patel) are first-rate is little help early on, as every word out of their mouths and every situation they make is standard-times-ten. Surely the creative team could have spent a little more time on plot and characterization.  But maybe this is literally all that is ever expected of Indian parents. Sad.

But what about poor Jess Weixler, utterly luminous here (as she almost always is)? The movie's love interest, she holds the screen beautifully but is given practically nothing to do. (She has a very young child, but so uninterested are the filmmakers in her character and life that they neglect to even have our hero ask anything about the kid.  Is this girl even available to him?  Oh, yes, and the wonderful Kevin Corrigan is on view, too -- with even less to do than Ms Weixler.

The film's smartest and most delightful character is that of Akbar (played by the very sexy and charismatic Naseeruddin Shah, shown above and below), who steals the movie from the first moment we see him. A cab-driver/cook who seems to understand the secret of life, he helps make Today's Special edible.  His verbal dissertation on Pondicherry and the short and unproductive venture of the French in India -- and what might have happened to the country's cuisine had the French taken over rather than the British -- is one of the movie's delights.

Once Akbar enter's our hero's life, the movie takes off and becomes a lot more charming and watchable. Everything is still one big cliché, but the cast enters into things so fully and gracefully that, by the conclusion, you may just be happy that you tagged along.

TrustMovies actually lives in Jackson Heights (the setting for the film and for our hero's conversion into someone humane), and though he has dined at several of the community's fabled Indian restaurants, he has yet to taste anything as good as what appears to create such a stir in this film. Well, hope springs eternal (to add to those clichés).

Mr. Manvi, by the way, acquits himself well enough in the lead role (you can see him currently as the hissable villain in The Last Airbender, in It's Kind of a Funny Story and as a regular on cable-TV's The Daily Show). Today's Special opens this Friday, November 19, nationwide. It will be playing at several theaters in Manhattan, and in Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere. Click here to discover specific venues near you.


Anonym said...

i like your blogg :)

TrustMovies said...

Thanks, Anonym. Imagine: a 15-year-old and a nearly 70-year-old communicating of their own free will! This is just one of the things that makes the internet so amazing. I went to your blog THE WORLD and read a few posts. Very real -- and a little sad. Wish I could offer helpful advice, but I think you need to follow your own heart and your own mind -- and just keep moving along and ahead. Many older folk I know and talk to (including myself) feel that we now mostly regret the things we did NOT do, rather than almost any of the things we did. (Of course, I am presuming that none of us were serial killers.) Keep that in mind and forge ahead. And keep writing and thinking and feeling and blogging. And live!