Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Outsourced" - Falling in Love with third world labor

I agree with Jessi and think this is a fun, laidback and quirky flick, however I withhold a 5th salt shaker and think that “Local Hero” was both similar and superior. Co-Writer/Director John Jeffcoat has great fun both with the clash of cultures and the fish out of water aspects of our lead character and the economic setup is timely and on target. This may, God forbid, be the first of a subgenre as the US continues to ship its jobs overseas for cheaper labor.

In "Outsourced" the cinematography is colorful and soundtrack has some great Indian music on it. My problem was that I thought the romantic angle suffered since it seemed a little too contrived and there was a lack of sexual chemistry between the leads. In fact our main character Todd (Josh Hamilton) goes from angry American to super manager to enamored lover without much change in his vacant expressions. This is a romcom man, step it up! The Indian workers also seemed a little bit too much like the comedic yet lovable African American servants as depicted in ‘Gone with the Wind’ and other older American films. Later as a xenophobic American caller leans that his product is now cheaper since it’s not made in the US, he seems pleased. So the politics of this flick are a little skewed to keep it breezy. Layoffs of call center workers occur without any negativity (most of them not even happening on camera), as social commentary takes a back seat to the humor of culture clash and romance. (“Is this wrong?” we all collectively ask)

To the filmakers credit, however, it points out the quandary we Americans face as we continue to buy cheaper products made in sweatshops in China. The bottom line is that politics aside; it’s a fun film with a lot of charm and wonderful sights and sounds while tiptoeing around very thorny issues. I also really identified with the mad quest for a real cheeseburger; a very funny scene. The US managers reminded me of the British military officers in films like “Lawrence of Arabia” as they move personnel like chess pieces while ignoring the fact that their empire is coming to an end. Asif Basra, as this films’ Gunga Din (wannabe manager instead of soldier) turns in a great performance.

Coincidentally, (and speaking of cheeseburgers) I saw another good film recently with an Indian flavor. “The Namesake” features Kal Penn (who played Kumar in the “Harold and Kumar” films) playing it straight as a self-centered yuppie who, like a lot of us, doesn’t really appreciate his heritage or the sacrifices of his parents. This film transcends the culture to tell a universal story and is very understated and touching. Irrfan Khan as the father is a standout as a decent man who defies movie stereotypes. It’s a bit rambling but still a heartfelt journey. Four Curry shakers again.

I feel like tandoori chicken now dammit!

(Disclosure: Tim has worked in call centers and had really high sales and short talk times)

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Outsourced" (2006): Sweet as Banana Lassi

‘Americans get angry over their jobs being outsourced. But aren’t so many of the products they buy made in China?’

This is just one of the smart observations made in this endearing, beautifully told story. Watching “Outsourced” feels like watching a foreign film at it’s best. Rich, intriguing characters, a reluctant outsider, and a warm, unfolding culture. An American employee is shipped off to India when the novelty company he works for decides to outsource their sales support. Josh Hamilton plays the culturally insensitive American who slowly opens his mind, and heart, to a new culture...a new way of thinking.

(<---- The adorable Ayesha Dharker)

I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Local Hero” (1983), in which Peter Riegert’s pre-Bill Murray, intricately underplayed character is sent to Scotland to buy a village where his company plans to build an oil refinery. Outsourced is a little funnier, a little lighter, but achieves the same feeling, nonetheless.

I had the honor of performing in a staged reading of one of George Wing’s works in progress when I lived in Seattle. His previous hit, “50 First Dates,” has the same romantic heart. His collaboration with John Jeffcoat has produced a thinking person’s love story, that takes a look at the day to day realities of outsourcing American jobs.

There’s no Hollywood prerequisite “edginess” here— no murders, explosions. Just an economics/love story that really blew me away. This is the first film I’m rating 5 salt shakers..... a classic, a must-see.