To pull off this film, first-time writer-director Hassan Zee only had a half-million dollars, chump change for filmmaking. Zee left a medical career in Pakistan to make movies in the United States; his moviemaking skills are still green, and it shows. However, this little picture has a few merits; through the seldom-seen Pakistani-American viewpoint, the film tells the familiar story of immigrant parents and second-generation kids trying to reconcile old traditions with Western desires. Also refreshing is the rarely presented Muslim female protagonist, Hava, played well by the lovely Pooja Kumar.
Hava’s family sent her to Pakistan at age 9 to protect her from the trappings of American culture. She returns nine years later with dreams of college and gainful employment, only to find her family struggling to make ends meet and clinging to their old values. She goes behind her father’s back, taking a job in a café, where she winds up falling for a white college kid, Justin (Craig Marker). When she discovers her parents have already arranged her marriage, Hava must choose between her loyalty to her family and feelings for Justin.
Zee’s telling of the story is straightforward; he avoids the plus-sized Bollywood-esque dance numbers that other directors have adopted in recent East-West fusion pictures (Bride and Prejudice, The Guru).
The approach is refreshing, but Zee and cast foil themselves by adding a cheesiness of their own. Marker’s overacting is especially cloying; he emotes like a bad community theater actor. It’s especially hard to take when he fumbles through the many schlocky moments in Zee’s script, with dialogue perhaps too drippy for even daytime soaps.
Zee’s Night of Henna (named for the tradition of decorating a bride’s hands and feet the night before her wedding) lacks polish, but his observations about the tensions between Pakistani and American values are perceptive. Had Zee had more tools, better actors and the experience to refine his first effort, his insights might have rung truer.
Showing exclusively at the Birmingham 8 (211 S. Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-644-3456).
Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].