Kamali believes in “til death do you part.” So do her parents.
Except if she doesn’t marry who they want her to, they’re going to make sure that death comes awfully early.
That’s the idea behind Arranged Marriage, a good-looking but uneven film whose script veers crazily between shocks and satire. It’s being pushed as a comedy, but the laughs are often ugly and overshadowed by some grim violence.
Filmmaker Anoop Rangi’s outrage at patriarchal oppression and violent sexism is real, and deserved. But it overpowers the story she wants to tell, often leading her to lose control of the film’s tone and tension.
Kamali – winningly played by Megha Sandhu – is a modern, assimilated South Asian-American. She has a part-time job at a bikini store, a full-time course load in grad school, and a white boyfriend, named Clive.
Her family doesn’t know about him. And what Kamali doesn’t know is that they’ve already picked out a husband for her.
Obviously, there’s a conflict looming – one which her father will resolve in his favor, by any means necessary.
Rangi, who also wrote the script, has plenty of good points to make, and to her credit she doesn’t settle for the easy targets. Kamali’s hyper-traditional parents aren’t the only ones at fault here.
It’s not emphasized, for example, but it’s clear that Kamali isn’t just assimilated into American culture but alienated from her own heritage (she doesn’t have a single South Asian friend). It’s also increasingly obvious that her white boyfriend’s attraction to her may be based more on his own fetish for the “exotic” than on anything loving or real.
But other attempts at satire – like an arbitrary shot of Kamali slathering skin-whitening cream over herself – are overdone, and often unmotivated by the plot. Clive’s pivot from liberal good-guy to disgusting bigot comes with dizzying speed. And can’t you portray a racist cop as a racist cop without giving him a Hitler moustache?
The acting is a little scattershot, too, Sandhu is warmly appealing as Kamali, and Jordan Holmes is fine as Clive. But Kavi Raz mugs too much as the father, and several of the supporting players are barely competent.
Rangi has said that she did not want to do the usual “feel-good ethnic or cautionary ethnic” film, that she wanted something more challenging. Arranged Marriage is certainly that. But it often fails to meet its own challenges, by relying on out-of-character actions or unbelievable situations. It has a sense of outrage, but loses its sense of purpose.