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Finding Fanny
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by Jay Seaver

"Fanny's fairly funny, if kind of weird."
4 stars

After a year or so of going to the Indian movies at the local multiplex, one gets a certain idea of what to expect, generally a musical masala picture that's odd by conventional Hollywood standards. Sometimes, though, you get something like "Finding Fanny", which is an entirely different sort of weird: A quirky indie-style comedy that's okay when cute but better when the claws come out.

It starts in Pocolim, Goa - the sort of village you won't find on a map and where life passes at the same speed you're moving, to quote narrator Angelina (Deepika Padukone). Ferdinand Pinto (Naseeruddin Shah) is the postmaster there, so it's odd that he has a letter in which he proposed to one Stefanie "Fanny" Fernandes returned forty-six years after it was sent. Angie sees that the only thing to do is to bring Ferdie to Fanny, but actually doing it will also involve Savio de Gama (Arjun Kapoor), just back from six years in Mumbai for his father's funeral, Don Pedro Cleto Colaco (Pankaj Kapur), a world-renowned artist who has recently taken up residence in the town, and Rosalie Eucharistica (Dimple Kapadia), Angie's busybody mother-in-law whom Don Pedro wished to be his voluptuous muse. It should just be a simple morning drive, but it's not surprising that things don't go according to plan for this group.

The initial burst of narration and character introductions may have viewers bracing themselves for an onslaught of too-cute small-town eccentricity, and it's not exactly unwarranted. The movie is filled with oddballs who seem to mostly spend their time being odd rather than accomplishing anything, with Angie fitting into the pixie slot while Savio comes off a bit of a curmudgeon. It's not unpleasant, most of the time, and in fact has some nice little moments as the cast plays off of each other. Director Homi Adajania and co-writer Kersi Khambatta just seem to make the common assumption that weird automatically implies funny or delightful.

That may be some viewers' thing, but if it's not, rest assured that just as one might start feeling fatigued by the somewhat empty quirk, a joke will go to a surprisingly dark place. Sometimes it's entirely random, like when kids flip Savio the bird for no apparent reason. Sometimes these moments of meanness will be just as empty as the ones meant to be cute. But on a fairly regular basis, they will be the biggest laughs in the movie, as something terrible and unexpected but not entirely out of the blue happens and gives the audience a hard jolt. It's not always immediately recognizable that this is where Adajania and company are going - some gags play as earnest tragedy, while others don't seem that cruel on first blush - but at some point, it begins to dawn that this car, and perhaps this entire quaint village, is filled with potentially awful people.

Put the emphasis on "potential", though, because the cast seldom really puts a caustic enough coating on these characters to repel the audience for very long. Arjun Kapoor comes the closest as Savio, but he's usually got something beneath the character's grumpiness which gets a little air once everybody's history comes out. Naseeruddin Shah is the furthest on the other end as the doggedly eccentric and frequently befuddled Ferdie, and it's kind of a terrific comic performance, sweet, emotional, and almost child-like but capable of drily going against expectation without breaking character. Pankaj Kapur and Dimple Kapadia are playing fairly broad archetypes much off the time, although Kapadia, like Kapoor, does get to shine in the later scenes. Shockingly, despite playing the narrator and having Angie be at the center of much of what's going on, Deepika Padukone seems underused; she doesn't get set up for a huge laugh like the rest do on-screen, and it's tough to say how much of the reaction to her narration is from her delivery or just the juxtaposition.

Maybe that's because the film (at least as shown at this theater) is in English; while it's one of India's many official languages, it's the second or third of most in the cast, not quite ideal for a fairly verbal comedy. It's not the only issue the movie has - it occasionally goes too far in one direction or another and has to drop one important bit of exposition in with a bit of a thud - but Adajania and his cast do well in building while characters out of funny traits and crazy histories. It's also a fairly rare comedy that moves as easily from sweet to sharp and back several times as this one does.

And, further defying expectations for those who have only seen a certain type of Indian film, "Finding Fanny" is 102 minutes long and any songs are in the background. So, it's not necessarily what someone might expect going in, and it's an weird comedy on its own, but it's got some moments.

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originally posted: 09/16/14 12:36:40
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