This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The joys and pains of childhood are familiar across all cultures and, as the cloying comedy "Growing Up Smith" demonstrates, hackneyed variations on "The Wonder Years" also are universal.
Set in 1979, the movie centers on 10-year-old Smith Bhatnagar (Roni Akurati, a charming newcomer), son of Indian immigrants Bhaaskar (Anjul Nigam) and Natini (Poorna Jagannathan) living in a small town in Oklahoma. Bhaskar has Smith's life mapped out: to study to become a neurosurgeon ("it pays to specialize," the father lectures him) and, at 22, to marry an Indian girl to whom he is already betrothed.
Smith has other ideas. He's becoming fully Americanized, obsessed with "Star Wars" and disco music. He's developed a severe crush on the girl across the street, Amy Brunner (Brighton Sharbino). And he has learned from his older sister, Asha (Shoba Narayan) who's dating a white boy behind her parents' backs that the first rule of living in America is "Mami and Papi don't need to know everything."
The movie, narrated by an adult Smith (Samrat Chakrabarti), is filled with reminiscences. Smith recalls life lessons from Amy's unemployed dad (Jason Lee), misadventures at Halloween, enduring bullies and cultural misunderstandings, and trying to live up to his father's lofty expectations.
If one digs into the script by Nigam, Gregory Scott Houghton and the late Paul Quinn there are nuggets of insight about finding one's way through two competing cultures. Alas, first-time director Frank Lotito seems overwhelmed by the surface nostalgia of "Growing Up Smith," opting for sitcom-level simplicity rather than anything deep and meaningful.
'Growing Up Smith'
A 10-year-old Indian immigrant tries to navigate American culture in this syrupy comedy.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, April 28.
Rating • PG-13 for some language and brief drug use.
Running time • 98 minutes.