East is East

After a surprising amount of success in Britain and other countries overseas, the generation gap comedy East is East makes its way across the Atlantic into American movie houses. The largest potential problem is that audiences here will have no way to relate to the movie. East is East deals with a biracial family living in Britain, half-British and half-Pakistani, but the issues are universal. The movie switches quickly from absurdist comedy to serious drama without missing a beat.

Over twenty-five years ago, George Khan (Om Puri, My Son the Fanatic, Such a Long Journey) moved from Pakistan to Britain and married Ella (Linda Bassett, Oscar and Lucinda). They had a whopping seven children together, all of whom grow up very British to the dismay of their father. George wants them to be Pakistani. The British view them as outsiders because they are not white, and the Pakistanis view them as outsiders because they are partially white. Khan is a traditional Muslim man, and the only way he knows how to deal with this problem is to crack down on his children. He thinks that by forcing his children to become good Muslims, he can look better in the eyes of other Pakistanis. Puri has been a revered figure in Indian cinema for years, and international audiences have finally been able to enjoy him also. His portrayal of George is heartbreaking. He does not know how to talk to his children, and is so imposing that his wife and children are afraid to do anything about it.

George's family is still reeling over the failed arranged marriage of his oldest son Nazir (Ian Aspinall), who was subsequently thrown out of the house. George is now planning to marry off Tariq (Jimi Mistry, Hamlet) and Abdul (Raji James), both of whom have no idea what is going to happen. Tariq rebels against his father by being as white as he can. He dates British women, smokes, eats sausage and dances at discos. Abdul is the opposite, who feels that by following all of George's rules, the family will not fall apart. Sajid (Jordan Routledge), the youngest son, finds about George's plan, and tells his brothers. He is already enraged that his father forced him to have a circumcision.

Director Damien O'Donnell and writer Ayub Khan-Din (who wrote the original play) do a great job mixing humor with the more serious issues. Sajid will not take off his hooded parka, and his friend pines over sister Meenah (Archie Panjabi). Another son, Saleem (Chris Bisson) is supposedly going to college and working on an engineering degree. Their efforts to defy their father are extremely outrageous. The ensemble cast, a mixture of newcomers and theater veterans (some of which were in the original stage production of East is East) is also good. Bassett gets her chance to shine near the end of the movie. She plays a mother who defers to her husband, but will only go so far before standing up for herself. With so many principal characters, the story takes time to focus a little on each one, bringing small moments of clarity in a crowded story. The accents are also a little difficult, at times, subtitles would have been nice, but that's such a small price to pay for such a warm movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 36 minutes, Rated R for language, sexual content, and some domestic violence.

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