Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Light Comedy
Opens locally in limited release, November 19th, 2010 (playing at Maple Art Theatre in Bloomfield Hills), Rated R
Starring: Aasif Mandvi, Naseeruddin Shah
Directed by David Kaplan
Yes it may come as a shock to learn that there is more than just Harry Potter opening this weekend. And as much as I would like to recommend the small indy film "Today's Special" as an alternative viewing choice, there is simply too many other plentiful options on the menu (did you get all the food references in that sentence? Cool.)
It is hard for people to even care about a movie they've never heard of, starring actors they've never seen. You may recognize only 1 actor in Today's Special, Dean Winters, who was a remarkable character on HBO's series Oz, and most recently has been seen as one of Liz Lemon's boyfriends on 30 Rock, and as that annoying guy in the Allstate commercials. I don't even list him as "starring" in this film however, since he only has a bit part...although it is one of the funnier scenes in the movie.
But I digress...Today's Special is about an Indian-American man named Samir (Mandvi), who works in a restaurant and dreams of becoming a chef. We see that he is not necessarily a failure, but just someone who hasn't reached his potential in his career or personal life. When he is passed on for a head chef position, he decides he wants to move to Paris to understudy one of the great French chefs. He tells his parents, an Indian couple who own a traditional Indian restaurant in New York the news, and his father is so disappointed that he literally is rushed to the hospital. With no one to run the family business, Samir is forced to step in and run his father's restaurant. Along the way, he will need to rediscover his passion, and his culture.
The problem with Today's Special is that it is so formulaic, light, and fluffy, that it's almost lifeless. A movie about finding passion, and rediscovering one's self should be full of passion...this film seems to have very little. Another food-themed movie, Big Night (starring Stanley Tucci), was a film fascinated with food...it was a film that made you hungry while watching. Today's Special in comparison, is bland. Even though we are told how cooking must come from the heart, we never see any of this heart on screen.
With an independent and unknown cast of actors, the performances are so-so, and the movie goes along just the way we think it will. There is the disapproving father, the love interest, even the wise-cracking old-timers in the diner. Sprinkled throughout the movie is actually some really funny stuff...hints of sharp writing that showed signs of what this movie may have been had it been played as a straight comedy. But there is just too much being mixed in...like any good recipe, you sometimes have to pick and choose your ingredients...you can't just throw everything in the cupboard in a pan and expect tasty results.
The movie has themes about reconnecting with one's heritage, and coming to terms with it. At every turn, we know what to expect, and then each moment comes with even more cheese than necessary. It's light and kind, and not a movie that will make you want to rip your eyeballs out. It's just as deep and memorable as an after-school special rather than the Movie du jour.
So despite a few laugh out loud bits of dialogue and scenes, there is unfortunately not a lot to recommend. If you are anti-Harry Potter, or just want to get away from the crowds at the bigger theatres, maybe add this to your list. Just don't expect greatness...it may not even sate your appetite with mediocre expectations.
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