"The Namesake" tells a deeply ordinary and matter-of-factly exotic story. Most films that cross cultural lines seem to require gnashing incompatibilities or broad comedic swipes. Not so much in director Mira Nair's rendering of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel. The incompatibilities, as well as the compatibilities, are touching and telling and fun enough.
The melting pot of American history is typically overstated. However, the stew that is America does include an unparalleled mix of ingredients. In "The Namesake," two parents in India arrange their daughter's marriage to a young Indian professional making his life in New York City. Lives are very different halfway around the world.
Life for the son and daughter of these immigrants is decidedly American but incontrovertibly Indian. The children know their parents are too old country to really get it, even if whatever these parents don't get, they got for their children.
The namesake is Gogol Ganguli. His father named his son after his favorite author. Gogol Ganguli grew up disliking this name for more reasons than the fact of this author's relatively minor place in 19th century Russian literature. Gogol grew up being teased about his name and shrunk by the thought of declaring it to prospective girlfriends.
As storytelling must have it, there's a rich, blond, in-every-way-desirable girlfriend who has no problem with Gogol's name or his heritage. There's also a blossomed, Indian, in-the-cards girlfriend. In a more fundamental way, the latter reflects Gogol's hyphenated Indian-American definition.
The Irish, the Italians and the Jews are the most storied "them" of the American Dream, but such Euro-centric players are standard stock in the world's most promising recipe. Blacks are the most defining ingredient in the American stew. Amongst many other flavors, the people of India still seem strange to most Americans even as they stir more and more noticeably into the American mix.
"The Namesake" helps us become more accustomed to the taste. It is a savory blend of the them that is us. It plays at the Nevada Theatre, Nevada City, Friday through Sunday (June 1-3).