I Can’t Believe They Made This
There’s a fun game I like to play when watching a movie sometimes. It’s involuntary but that’s because the game depends on the type of movie I’m about to watch. If it’s a good film, then the game is rendered redundant. If it’s a bad film, then it’s out of my control. What is in my control is the mini bottle of Jack Daniels I keep on me at all times but that’s because I may have a drinking problem. So, the game is called “Wow, I can’t believe they actually made this” and you take a shot/swig every time you see something so stupid and bad that you actually can’t believe they made this.
Basmati Blues is a genre hybrid of bad ideas meets Bollywood musical. The central bad idea is that of the tired trope of sending a white person to a country of people who aren’t typically white (is this case it’s white girl goes to India) and having that white person save the day. Basmati Blues certainly isn’t the worst example of this but it’s not giving much away to say that Brie Larson is riding a very literal white horse all savior like in the film’s final act.
Which brings us to Brie Larson: Why would the brilliant Brie Larson do such a film? Well, the reality is acting is a job like any other and unlike a 9-5, it isn’t even remotely stable and the statistic is supposedly that most actors are out of work 90% of the time.
Before Brie Larson popped up on the A-list radar for the brilliant Short Term 12, she was a jobbing actress that most people may remember from her role on TV’s The United States of Tara or supporting roles in Scott Pilgrim or 21 Jump Street. Consistently working but until Short Term 12 and her Oscar-winning turn in Room, she wasn’t an A-lister with a starring comic book role (Captain Marvel) on the horizon.
We all Make me Mistakes!
That the film was supposed to have been released back in 2015 should have alarm bells ringing out, but in the context of Larson pre her Short Term 12 buzz and Oscar-winning performance in Room, this was a starring role in a film: and that’s not to be sniffed at. Besides, even if I weren’t being charitable, I would point out that Michael Fassbender starred in a film as an actual Nazi zombie immediately after doing Hunger. And I was sloshed by the end of that film.
Whilst I can’t say I was legless by the end of Basmati Blues, the opening scene has a line where Scott Bakula (Quantum Leaping into the role of Larson’s father sans Dean Stockwell and Ziggy) tells her over facetime about how her mother “would be very proud” of her. That’s screenwriting talk for “she’s dead”. To emphasize the point, Brie Larson’s character then looks at a picture of her dead mother and utters some platitude about how she’s “going to do it”. Just so you get the point you dumb stupid audience member: Her mother is dead.
The whole “she goes to India” part is equally insulting and so clearly plotted by a person who just needs to get her to India ASAP. La La Land had people bursting out into song and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has its dialogue entirely sung and yet both create an atmosphere of believability and that helps to make you care about a character or at least invest in what’s going on. Believability is pretty much synonymous with relatability and this counts especially true when it comes to characters.
I Simply Didn’t Care!
I almost immediately didn’t care about Brie Larson’s character from the weird syncing of the music in the film’s first musical number to the lazy and insulting plotting of the opening scenes. She’s in India so quickly, it doesn’t make any real sense. A musical really stands on whether or not the tunes are any good but the songs in Basmati Blues are mostly underwhelming and the dance routines have a dodgy music video vibe about them that makes them feel rushed rather than memorable.
As a plus (or maybe it’s a negative, I dunno), Basmati Blues does have the spectacle of Donald Sutherland (playing the unscrupulous corporate villain) singing, or something approximating singing. He’s mostly speak-singing and it’s gloriously awful; like something out of a weird LSD trip where you’re both horrified and faintly amused by an old man speak singing at you.
It’s hard to find things to like other than the luminous (and quite possibly numinous) Brie Larson but there is a throwaway line about how it’s not possible to “catch” Jet-lag. That was quite funny and Larson, great actress that she is, really knows how to sell a line.
But even Larson has her limits and can do only so much with a lazy script. She at one point says “I’m exasperated” immediately after doing quite a convincing job of acting exasperated. The film wants to both show and tell seemingly forgetting that in the film medium, you really only need to show. It’s exasperating to watch!
Basmati Blues is not the worst film you will ever see but it’s so poorly put together, both from a production and script perspective that it’s easy to see why it stayed on the shelf for so long and why the distributors are trying to capitalise on Larson’s impending mega-stardom (I can only assume and hope that Captain Marvel will be a hit because Larson is a true talent).