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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Basmati Blues movie review: like white savior on rice

Basmati Blues red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Part hamfisted critique of Big Ag, part strained romantic comedy, and part insipid musical that’s not much like the Bollywood tribute it’s meant to be. An accidental parody of itself.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love Brie Larson; desperate for movies about women
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

A couple of white American guys — first-time director Dan Baron, who cowrote the script with Jeff Dorchen — decide to make a tribute to Bollywood musicals. What could possibly go wrong? Almost everything, as it turns out. Basmati Blues has been sitting on a shelf for years, and it probably would have stayed there permanently if its star, Brie Larson, hadn’t skyrocketed to fame since. (She was cast here before she was cast in Room, never mind won an Oscar for her performance there.) Larson is effortlessly charming, even here, as an impossible naif of a scientist who doesn’t realize she’s a tool of the Big Agriculture globocorp she works for. She even gets to show off her singing voice, which is very nice. But she cannot save this embarassment from itself.

“If I sing a cute song about saving the world, that makes my white-saviorism okay, right?"

“If I sing a cute song about saving the world, that makes my white-saviorism okay, right?”

Part hamfisted critique of Big Ag, part strained romantic comedy, and part insipid musical that’s not very Bollywood at all, Blues requires that Larson’s brilliant scientist does not understand the implications of the GMO rice she has developed: it’s a suicide seed whose plants do not produce seeds that can be replanted, meaning farmers would have to buy seeds anew every year, and she doesn’t realize that this is a problem. Fresh with her ignorance, Linda is sent off to India by her boss (Donald Sutherland [The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2]; he sings too) to sell these seeds to the locals, where she scuffles and flirts with farmer and scientist Rajit (Utkarsh Ambudkar: Ride Along 2), who has his own not-for-profit ideas about how to help his neighbors. While the Indians rightly make fun of her for her shocking lack of understanding about absolutely everything about their lives and culture, she still ends up a white savior who will rescue them from a problem she herself personally caused. This is not the adorable delight it is intended to be.

From the opening scene, in which Linda sings a sunny song about saving the world with science, to the end credits, which finally give Scott Bakula (Source Code), as her dad, a chance to belt out a tune (though he would have been wiser to avoid the songs entirely), the whole shebang plays like a fake joke movie, But even as accidental parody, Basmati Blues is as clinical, as manufactured, as nearly dead as Linda’s Rice 9.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.

red light 1 star

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Basmati Blues (2018) | directed by Dan Baron
US/Can release: Feb 09 2018
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, sex references)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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