Games of love
By JOSEPH CUNNEEN
The most colorful and entertaining movie invitation in recent months is to New Delhi to attend Monsoon Wedding. The marriage at the center of its story is an arranged one, with the groom, Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas), coming all the way from Houston, and the bride, Aditi (Vasundhara Das), carrying on with a TV talk-show host until the eve of the nuptials. Director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay) successfully juggles her exotic materials to create a brashly comic celebration.
Sabrina Dhawans humorous screenplay begins with a focus on two testy males -- Aditis father, Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah), a distracted upper-middle-class merchant who is worried that he cant pay for the wedding, and the bossy, working-class wedding planner, P.K. Dubey (Vijay Raaz), who eats marigolds like candy while completing arrangements for the outdoor party -- which doesnt include waterproofing for the tent. The success of the wedding -- and the movie -- is shown by the way it ultimately humanizes and ennobles these men in a delightfully humorous way.
Lalit, despite his strong sense of family unity, acts with courage and dignity in asking a wealthy relative and former benefactor, Tej Puri (Rajat Kapoor), to leave the party after the latter has shown unwanted attention to a young niece. Dubey, after going home to hear his mother brag that her stocks are rising and complain that she doesnt have a daughter-in-law (and hence cant become a grandmother), returns to the party to woo Lalits charming family maid Alice (Tilotama Shome) with an enormous, heart-shaped display of marigolds.
In between, a brisk pace has been maintained in the days between the betrothal and the wedding, with the help of lots of contagious music by Mychael Danna. There are more characters and subplots than you can follow, but director Nair, who studied at Delhi University and is now teaching film at Columbia University, keeps a keen eye out for the complex ways in which contemporary India is struggling to balance Western attractions with traditional values. She includes both charming age-old wedding customs and a traditional womens song about the delights of marriage, and a TV talk show that features a middle-aged woman who demonstrates her vulgar voice-overs for porn movies.
The main storyline follows a predictable arc. Aditi wisely seeks out Hemant and tells him the truth about her prior relationship; though shaken, after looking for a moment into her huge, tearful blue eyes, its clear that hes not flying back to Houston without her.
Even if Monsoon Wedding leaves you uncertain about Indias success in digesting modernism, you can hardly fail to enjoy its lighthearted tour of Delhi and its vital inhabitants; you might even develop a taste for marigolds.
I thought The Rookie would only work with baseball fans, but the audience I saw it with -- more little girls than boys -- cheered loud and long at its conclusion. An upbeat Walt Disney movie thats not afraid of sentimentality, its based on the true-life story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), a high school chemistry teacher and baseball coach in Big Lake, Texas, who at age 38 still dreams of pitching in the big leagues. The Rookie assures us we should follow our dream, whatever our age. I was all set to dig my old glove out of a trunk and offer my services to the Mets bullpen when my wife reminded me that, unlike Jim, I dont have a 98-mile-an-hour fastball.
The Rookie isnt really a good movie; it takes too long to get started. It even uses a mythical bit about two nuns looking for oil who strew rose petals on the West Texas plains to open and close its story in mystery. Switch to Morris difficult childhood with a stern navy recruiter father who tells his son, There are more important things than baseball. But the film hits its stride when some of Jims mediocre high school players see their coach practice his pitching. The deal is that if the team gets their act together and wins the district championship, Jim is to go for a professional tryout.
When the guys at the barbershop get together and pour hair on the ground to discourage the deer and some green begins to shoot up, Big Lake starts overachieving.
Jims wife Lorri (Rachel Griffiths) is skeptical at first about her husbands ambition. When he goes for the tryout, he has to take along not only his cute son Hunter (Angus T. Jones) but also the baby, whose diaper needs changing by the time he finishes his practice throws. After Jim gets a chance to pitch in the minors, however, Lorrie shows a supportive independence: Remember: Im a Texas woman, and I dont need any man to help me manage.
Quaid is good at conveying his inner doubts, as well as the intensity and concentration needed to be a pitcher, and The Rookie deserves credit for giving us a look at the large baseball world underneath the major leagues. We understand Jims feeling of strangeness among the much younger minor league players and are amused at their initial resentment that he is tying up the clubhouse phone with his long, regular calls home.
Needless to say, The Rookie isnt the kind of movie that will let Jim get knocked out of the box in his major league debut at Arlington, Texas, where even his father shows a little pride. John Schwartzmans photography of both small-town Texas and glamorous night baseball is a large part of the movies success, along with Quaids non-macho, delighted grin. You and the kids can probably enjoy The Rookie together, but I wanted more about the fine points of being a pitcher. Didnt Jim ever throw anything but fastballs? Shouldnt he have practiced covering first base?
For a complete change of pace, but without the children, you might try Alronso Cuaróns Y Tu Mamá También (And your mama, too), despite its explicit sex and gutter language. Touted as the highest-grossing Mexican-made film in history, it is often funny, with wicked digs at upper-class Mexican society and something serious to say about growing up. It begins with a goodbye sex scene between Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) and his girlfriend, who is about to leave for a vacation in Italy. Tenoch, whose father has excellent government connections, wants her to abstain from sex while she is away, though he has no equivalent intention for himself. Tenochs best friend, Julio Zapata (Gael García Bernal), though less well off, has a similar farewell with his girl, and the two teenage boys go to the pool of a swank club to masturbate in private and plan their summer vacation. The repeated underwater scenes that begin here and punctuate the movie suggest a deeper experience to life than these careless youths suspect.
The movie takes off when Julio and Tenoch go to a wedding reception attended by the Mexican President, and try to flirt with Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú), a woman twice their age who has recently arrived from Madrid and is married to a pretentious cousin of Tenochs. Bored, she asks them what she should see; they invent a perfect beach, Heavens Mouth, and offer to take her there. The boys are amazed when two days later, apparently in retaliation for her husbands infidelities, she phones to say yes. They manage to borrow a car from Julios older sister, a leftist student at the university.
Cuarón proceeds to take us on an extended tour of modern Mexico, both lovely and depressing, with voiceover reminders of radical class differences and hidden clues to the more somber side of his story. Luisa plays along with the macho posturing of her companions, but when they sneak around to her window at a motel, hoping for a look at the forbidden, all they see is a woman crying. She nevertheless decides to educate the boys about sex, taking the initiative with each in turn, and mocking their premature ejaculations. When sexual rivalry leads to hostility between them, she insists on making the rules for the rest of the trip, and eventually, under the influence of drink, there is a group sex scene in which the young men find themselves kissing each other.
By chance, they stumble on the perfect beach, where a simple fishing family will soon be forced to abandon their way of life due to the side effects of globalization. It becomes clear that, even if sensationalism is part of the initial appeal for many in the audience, the talented Cuarón, far from promoting irresponsible sex, is exposing the immaturity of the boys macho stance. He places the possibility of death starkly before us and them, a harsh corrective to the desire for instant gratification.
Nevertheless, accepting the poet Valérys dictum that in the representation of sex all that is not handsome is obscene, shouldnt we at least wonder if asking gifted actors to perform sex acts (whether or not simulated) to be photographed and projected on a screen is not a distortion of both realism and cinematic art? Would not a more indirect, suggestive approach, even if initially attracting smaller audiences, be more esthetically appropriate in a film about growth in maturity? Of course, related questions need to be asked even more in regard to violence in movies. I would encourage adults to see Mamá, marveling at the moving performance of Maribel Verdú as Luisa, and the wonderful rapport between Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal as the boys, and to think out their own answers.
Joseph Cunneen is NCRs regular movie reviewer. His e-mail address is SCUNN24219@aol.com
National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2002