Have you ever connected with someone within the first five minutes of meeting them? "Shades of Ray", a movie I saw recently at SDAFF 2009 is the cinematic equivalent of that experience. The movie put a smile to my face within the first few minutes and I settled in comfortably for the rest of the screening. Few are the movies that can build this instantaneous trust and then sustain it.
"Shades of Ray" is the story of the people in the life of a young man, Ray (Rehman) who has a Pakistani father and an American mother. His parents, living on the East Coast, are trying to exert their will on him in their separate but well-meaning ways. His Muslim father does not know that his son, living in Los Angeles, is a struggling actor who pays the bills by working in a bar. Considering that alcohol consumption is not encouraged in Islam the irony is not lost on Ray. His American girlfriend will not give him an immediate answer to his marriage proposal. And he never seems to be close to the fit the casting directors are looking for at every audition he goes to (not ethnic enough, or too ethnic). Worse, his father forces him to have dinner with a Pakistani girl he thinks Ray should get to know. And to his utter surprise, he does not hate this girl.
This may sound like sitcom fare. And maybe it is, but that would not be a bad sitcom. Nobody is going to put this movie on their list of the best movies of all time. But sometimes all a movie has to do is to be true to its intentions, and be honest and to have heart, and that is enough. The movie does not do anything path-breaking, in tone, story or style. It sets out to register this story about a character we have not seen before (a half-Pakistani man in America) and gets it ably accomplished. That what it has to say about identity, and race, and finding one's foothold in the ever liquifying melting pot that is America, resonates with others is a small measure of its success.
Ray is played by Zachary Levi (the lead actor on the NBC show 'Chuck', unseen by me) who has a loose-limbed naturalness about him that serves the delivery of many lines of dialog well. Kathy Baker, always a reliable actor, plays his mom. Consider that his quintessentially Muslim father is played so convincingly by Brian George, a Jewish actor born in Jerusalem and trained in Canada (I learn from IMDB). He steals nearly every frame of the movie he appears in.
One could do a lot worse than to pick this movie to spend two hours of their time on. Even as I realized this is not an exceptional movie, I walked out of it feeling something approaching fondness.