[Contains dated line-dancing sequences and SPOILERS!!!]
It’s the duty of a good feminist to seek out work created by women, and the duty of a good multiculturalist to seek out work created by minorities… so, in theory, Americanizing Shelley (2007)* should be a must-see twofer, since it was written, produced, and soundtracked by its Desi leading lady, Namrata Singh Gujral… but sadly the finished product is such a steaming pile of goat crap, it’s unlikely to win anyone over to either cause. Riffing on the classic Pygmalion story, this movie manages to botch so many significant plot points, and present us with such paper-thin characters, it makes She’s All That look like a shining beacon of Shakespearean genius. I’ll occasionally describe a flick as “painfully unfunny” on this blog, and I want to stress that I mean it literally in this case… the faint “jokes” and piss-poor plotting caused me actual mental anguish, to the extent that I was watching the whole thing through metaphorical fingers, with a cringe on my face.
Trying to unpick every example of ineptitude and idiocy would take all week, and I just don’t have the energy for it… I guess the most aggravating thing is that there’s actually a potentially great premise buried under all that incompetence: A naive and sheltered Indian woman (‘Shalini’/’Shelley’), raised in a small Himalayan village, travels to America to track down the man her parents betrothed her to as a child, only to find that he’s become a sleazy Hollywood talent agent, and that the only way to attract his attention is to become an “Americanized” movie star. This could have provided a pretty rich source of satire and cross-cultural education, but Gujral is far too busy running down her character’s homeland** and dry-humping The American Dream to say anything interesting, amusing, or meaningful about either country. Weirdly, her idea of a perfect happy ending for the kindly, mild-mannered intern who helps her character “go native” (and inevitably falls in love with her in the process), is for him to enlist in the military. It’s just tossed off in one of those “where are they now” captions, like it’s one of the easiest and most natural decisions anyone could make, before cutting to a shot of him playing with their two kids in the white-picket-fenced garden of a large colonial-style house, without a care in the world, as the ole “Stars and Stripes” flutters in the background. Feh. The fact that this movie was produced by a company called “American Pride Films” tells you everything you need to know about where its loyalties and priorities lie.
The one positive thing I can say about this flick is that it has a good cast, who still manage to deliver decent performances, despite being handicapped by crappy material. Notable names include Shaheen Khan as Shalini’s mother (‘Kirat’), and Noureen DeWulf as her younger sister (‘Littly’), who the dialogue suggests is overweight and ugly… but no. Just no. If anything, the body-only fat-suit makes her look even hotter! Also, there’s a very brief cameo by Helena Mattsson as a stereotypical “dumb blonde” actress auditioning for a role in a movie… and I attribute the lameness of her line-reading here to an understandable contempt for the part she’s been given. Gujral herself makes for a decent enough lead, but I didn’t find her nearly as charming as many of the other critics seem to… though that may be because I was bearing a grudge against her for the terrible script (and cheesy songs). On the manlier side of things, I have to give a shout-out to RonReaco Lee, who plays the hero’s standard-issue wise-cracking black friend, ‘Blaine’… quite a thankless role to be lumbered with, but he’s the only one who actually made me chuckle, so kudos for that.
* Fun fact: I bought the UK release, which rather ironically anglicises the word “Americanizing”.
** Shalini has an unfortunate habit of conflating her rural village with India as a whole, leading her to characterise the nation as a backwards backwater where “only the rich have cars”, and no one’s ever heard of contact lenses, or been informed that hamburgers contain beef. Tch!