Indie Film Review “Growing Up Smith”



First, the Recap:

La dolce vita. Easy street. The good life. The American Dream. It’s something those of us born in the United States often take for granted, having heard the term and associated so many of our goals with it over time. Yet, what about those entering from abroad? Those whose lives haven’t even had the chance to experience the freedom to pursue material wealth and/or comforts? But, once they have, is it truly the dream they envisioned? The year is 1979, and for one Indian family, the Bhatnagars, their hope rests on making the American Dream a reality. For the father, Bhaaskar (Anjul Nigam), still wanting the best of both new American ideals tempered with traditional Indian mentalities and practices, it’s a challenge to fit in the way he desires.

Likewise, his wife Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan) and children Smith (Roni Akurati) and Asha (Shoba Narayan) make their own attempts to blend into the fresh cultural undertakings they find themselves exploring, with decidedly mixed results, much less dealing with the not-always-enthused reactions of Bhaaskar. Smith, desiring to be an all-American 10-year old boy, begins to dabble in American concepts like cowboys, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and unfortunately, being bullied, while also finding himself falling in love with the neighbor’s daughter, Amy (Brighton Sharbino). But, as Smith gets to know more about Amy along with American family life and customs, he finds himself drawn further away from his Indian roots.

This, in addition to learning genuine as well as hard truths through Amy’s parents Butch (Jason Lee) and Nancy (Hilarie Burton), all culminates in a series of circumstances that will teach Smith valuable but formidable lessons about change, tradition, intolerance, family values, love, loss, when to support ideas that are new, and when to turn back to one’s heritage.

Next, my Mind:

Delivering an overall narrative that is steeped in charm, wittiness, lightheartedness, intelligence, and pure entertainment, director Frank Lotito and co-writer/co-producer Nigam’s exemplary film also manages to carry with it deeper messages about facets of the American life that aren’t always so clear cut and neatly packaged, but rather filled with themes of unwarranted misconceptions, bigotry, broken homes, and cultural/religious discrimination. Now, these elements are very smartly addressed in ways that bring the points home without becoming too weighty for the viewer or dampening the larger sense of joviality found here, but make no mistake, they’re still strongly presented to intended effect. It’s an ideal combination of comedic and dramatic execution, aided by completely engaging characters and a real world sensibility that makes it all relatable and sincere. Perfectly designed sets reflect the time era the story takes place in wonderfully, along with decade-appropriate music as well.

Akurati is a revelation in his role as Smith, a 10-year old boy, innocent to a fault, trying his level best to embody what it is to be an American child, in spite of his natural heritage and country. All his efforts to experience everything American is hilarious and affecting, while the realities of his father’s expectations for his life haunt him. The torch he carries for Amy is so endearing and lovable, and ultimately makes up the heart of the story. Nigam’s performance is equally captivating, giving us a father only trying to support his family, striving to believe he’s got the American Dream, while still holding firmly to Indian ideologies. His confusion as to how to successfully accept and practice American conventions like barbecues and Halloween is priceless, while his emphatic notions about the life his children are supposed to lead is heartfelt, but perhaps slightly misplaced. Either way, Nigam simply nails it.

Sharbino is an angel as Amy, an all-American girl who captures Smith’s heart by just being there for him, having no judgmental attitudes, and even aiming to understand his culture as well. She’s a true friend and sincere human being that attracts Smith like moths to a flame. Strong supporting efforts are provided by Lee as Butch, a down-on-his-luck mechanic who has dreams of his own that are put on hold when life throws him some curves. Jagannathan shines as Bhaaskar’s wife Nalini, whose own frustrations with American ways is made easier by her longing to see her children happy and successful in life. Narayan is wonderful as Smith’s older sister Asha, a girl caught up in the daunting teen years in more ways than one, much to her father’s consternation. Burton is solid as well in playing Butch’s long-suffering wife Nancy, who only wants what’s best for him and Amy.

An integral cameo is made by Samrat Chakrabarti as the older Smith, which lends a final, heart-tugging element to the entire affair. In total, “Growing Up Smith” is a fantastic, family-centered, enchanting, winsome dramedy that provides all the laughs and amusement one could want while still conveying life lessons with meaning and quality.

As always, this is all for your consideration and comment.  Until next time, thank you for reading!


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