Two Dramas from Fox Searchlight
The Namesake (January 31/07)
Based on the book by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake revolves around the exploits of the Ganguli family - with a particular emphasis placed on the relationship between hard-working father Ashoke (Irfan Khan) and his son, Gogol (Kal Penn). Infused with a sprawling, decades-spanning storyline, the movie generally moves at a brisk clip and certainly benefits from the uniformly superb performances (Penn is especially effective here). And although director Mira Nair - working from Sooni Taraporevala's screenplay - does a nice job of initially infusing the proceedings with a real sense of authenticity, the filmmaker's reliance on distinctly melodramatic elements becomes increasingly problematic. This is especially true of Gogol's sudden transformation from assimilated American to reverent Indian about midway through, as the speed with which the character drops his former life just isn't even remotely plausible (one could, however, envision this working within the context of a novel). There's ultimately little doubt that, were it not for the compelling nature of Gogol's relationship with his father, The Namesake wouldn't come off quite as well as it does; the egregiously uneven vibe is sure to turn off both fans of Lahiri's book and neophytes alike, as it's clear that the source material would've been far better served with a much longer running time.
Notes on a Scandal
Though headlined by a pair of Oscar winners and featuring a screenplay by acclaimed playwright Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal is - at its core - a thoroughly trashy piece of work that ultimately bears more than a passing resemblance to disposable psychological thrillers such as Single White Female and The Temp. The storyline - which follows a lonely old spinster (Judi Dench) as she becomes increasingly obsessed with a young, vibrant co-worker (Cate Blanchett) - certainly wouldn't feel out of place in a low-rent, straight-to-video offering, and it's only due to the the superior production values that the film remains a slight cut above such fare. Both Blanchett and Dench are superb in their respective roles, and effectively transform their one-dimensional characters into fairly fleshed-out figures - which proves to be quite an impressive feat indeed given Richard Eyre's heavy-handed direction and Philip Glass' unusually overbearing score.