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The Namesake -- A Movie Review

Updated on November 3, 2013

Great story and excellent acting, definitely a worthwhile culture clash drama with a side of comedy

4 stars for The Namesake movie starring Kal Penn
The Namesake
The Namesake

The reviewed movie, arguably one of Kal Penn's finest performances depicting culture clashes and growing up as a first-generation US citizen.


Closing the generation gap from India to the United States

When the Gangulis came to the US from India, they had to adjust to a whole new way of life. Here, water didn’t have to be boiled and gas came to their house 24 hours a day so they could cook whenever they liked. They knew that they would eventually adjust to their new home and learn to fit in.

Over the years Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) did learn to adjust to life in the United States. They had slightly more trouble adjusting to their two US-born children, who had never learned traditional values, and whose dedication to family was certainly not what the elder Gangulis considered proper. As for their son (Kal Penn), he quickly learned that a name like Gogol Ganguli makes it very difficult to ever get away from his heritage, no matter how he tries. Gogol takes his previously-refused good name, Nikhil, and goes to school to become an architect. All his friends call him Nick, and he’s very happy with his girlfriend Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), whose family he claims more readily than his own.

Every country has differences in culture; however, there is a very distinct dividing line between East and West. Respect for parents and the responsibilities of a child to the family differ so much as to be unrecognizable between the two. The Namesake explores some of these primary differences in the cultural struggle now familiar to thousands of immigrants all over the world. It focuses on the struggles of a mother from a culture where parents are revered by their children above all others as the givers of life, with children who are from a culture where parents are there to give suggestions but otherwise stay out of their adult child’s way.

Need more than a description? Here's the trailer

Author's critique of The Namesake

Considering Kal Penn's previous roles (Epic Movie, Harold & Kumar and a plethora of other juvenile comedy flicks) I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie. Having previously had good luck with movies featuring some of the other primaries, and thanks to the appealing description on the case, it seemed worth the try.

Not only was the movie in general a pleasant surprise, but also with Kal Penn’s performance in particular. Penn’s character starts as a rebellious and irreverent teenager, and morphs to a confused and very North American 20-something. He then becomes a mature family man, who finds himself inexorably drawn back to his roots. Frankly, with past performances as a basis for the opinion, I really didn’t think Penn could pull it off. He delivered a well-rounded, emotional performance that really made this film shine. A quick glance at his short biography indicates that Penn has real-world experience as the basis for this particular role.

The other performance that really deserves a mention is that of Tabu. Her character started as a young newlywed who seemed uncertain of everything, then grew into the calm, wise matron of the family. She delivers a matter-of-fact, humorous scene many times in the movie, but also shines with the intensely emotional parts of the movie.

While the plot is fairly transparent, it’s not of central concern. The storytelling becomes far more important than twists and turns, and it's carried out superbly with vivid visuals and authentic details. It takes the form of a traditional hero's tale, coming full-circle to meld the old with the new.

Expect virtually no down-time throughout the story, and a script that perfectly fits with the characters and overall atmosphere. It's excellent for anyone who enjoys a good heartfelt drama, enjoys watching the resolution of culture clashes, or simply has an interest in learning some of the important differences between the two cultures. At the time this reviewer stumbled on the movie, it was part of a continuing quest to learn more about India. The Namesake does not disappoint.


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