11 August 2009

Mad, Sad and Bad? Nah, Just bad...

Mad, Sad & Bad - UK, 98 mins, English. Dir. Avie Luthra.

Meera Syal, Nitin Ganatra, Zubin Varla, Andrea Riseborough

Avie Luthra’s comedy drama about a British-Asian family attempts to uncover universal truths and generous laughs from the minefield of modern relationships and city living. Unfortunately, despite a good cast - including familiar faces such as Meera Syal and Eastenders’ Nitin Ganatra – the script is frail, largely laugh free, and the plot, such as it is, never gets going. The whole feel of the production is that of a TV movie, or perhaps a pilot for an uncomissioned sit-com.

A large part of the problem can be ascertained from Luthra’s notes when he states that he intended to reflect a “kind of metropolitan thirty-something selfishness…people in their mid/late thirties in mixed relationships who were so self obsessed they’re not able to look beyond their own needs.” Now, if ever there was an unnecessary and uninspiring pitch it would have to be that one. Perhaps that sounds harsh and unfair. However, it was particularly disappointing that the most potentially interesting aspect of all of this – the mixed-race relationships, possible cultural divides etc – was not examined or used in anything approaching dramatic (or comedic) fashion at all. Indeed, the fact that there are mixed-relationships in the film is unimportant and largely irrelevant. All of the characters could have been Brit-white or all could have been Brit-Asian and the script could have remained unaltered. Which is presumerably the point? But in that case why mention or show it at all?

As it is, Mad, Sad & Bad joins the already tragically large list of failed British comedic offerings. The three main storylines; Syal’s dowdy Rashmi’s quest for a decent date in order to get her secretly boozing Mum (Leena Dhingra) off  her back, Ganatra’s Atul’s  troubled relationships and writer’s block and eldest brother Hardeep’s (Zubin Varla) sex obsession and lonely home life all remain unconvincing and barely raise a smile between them.  Often the balance between comedy and drama seems well off kilter – particularly Hardeep’s attempted seduction of his brother’s girlfriend (Riseborough), which just comes across as inappropriate and seedy.

The strongest character is probably that of the matriarch Usha, whose post-death narration opens and closes the film and should be the spark that leads the characters out of their naval gazing.  She at least provides some sense of realism, as her loneliness and desire for a better life for her kids begins to tire her out.

As for the other characters, they seem forced and underdeveloped. Syal and Ganatra are both good comedy performers, but they are working with frankly sub-standard material here. A running gag about Atul struggling to write an opera about cheese is painfully unfunny and is unfortunately the abiding memory that sticks after the credits roll. Mad, Sad & Bad? No, sadly, just bad.

Mad, Sad & Bad is out now.