The Namesake

Film
3 out of 5 stars
FAMILY VIEWING Penn, left, and his kin check out the Taj Mahal.
FAMILY VIEWING Penn, left, and his kin check out the Taj Mahal.

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Gogol Ganguli (Penn) is a walking melting pot—born to Bengali immigrants, bred in Queens and blessed (or cursed) with a famous Russian author’s name. Of course he’s going to be caught in a whirlpool of assimilative confusion! Mira Nair’s take on Jhumpa Lahiri’s popular culture-clash novel, however, doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis. It knows exactly what it is: an adaptation that’s intended to inspire crescendoes of sobs or cheers as Gogol’s groping for self-realization becomes a monumental triumph of the human spirit. And don’t think for a second that the film won’t come on like a bum-rushing Saint Bernard puppy in order to accomplish these goals.

To its credit, The Namesake tackles the Old World--versus--New World conflict with far more grace than its broad, mugging brethren (East Is East, Bend It Like Beckham). Penn throws himself into Gogol’s various personae—Kumar-like stoner, Manhattan yuppie, mildly militant Indian-American—with admirable verve, but his dramatic range needs to extend beyond gritting his teeth and glaring. Better is Irrfan Khan as Gogol’s father, who sums up a lifetime of resignation and disappointment in a single cigarette drag. But Nair’s tendency toward touchy-feeliness too often plays like cheap middlebrow pandering; if Oprah ever started a movie club, the director’s work would top the list. Her inability to resist dropping in cutesy moments, like a faux-Bollywood honeymoon dance, only makes things more cloying, and when the central story gives way to family melodrama and follow-your-bliss remarks, it’s time to prep the insulin shots. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear

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