Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Guru
USA 2002 : Daisy Von Scherler-Mayer : 100 mins (approx review based on provisional print)
ONE-LINE REVIEW : Likeably energetic but very lightweight and uneven culture-clash romantic comedy showcasing a fine supporting turn from never-better Heather Graham.
Only five years after Boogie Nights, its either very brave or very foolish to cast Heather Graham as a girl-next-door porn star teaching a gauche newcomer the industry ropes. And its surely playing with fire to have the character played by Graham an actress seldom previously noted for her thespian skills giving the young chap acting lessons in several scenes.
But Graham somehow manages to pull it all off, confirming the promise she showed in the otherwise dire Sidewalks of New York. Shes certainly never been more appealing, and seldom has she looked as though she’s had this much fun on camera. In The Gurus all-stops-out highlight, she’s the focus of an elaborate Bollywood pastiche musical-number energetically dancing and lip-synch singing in full Indian get-up that segues into a delirious version of Youre the One That I Want from Grease. Against all the odds, the sequence works – its only a pity that so much else in The Guru falls flat: lines, scenes, whole performances and subplots.
The main story follows the Candide-like progress of Rammy (Jimi Mistry), a dance-class instructor in India who travels to New York in search of fame and fortune. There, he stumbles into the local porn industry – Spinal Taps Michael McKean as a benign adult-pic director, and Graham as Sharonna, who fools her dopey, religious fiance (Dash Mihok, in the Michael Rapaport role) into thinking she’s a respectable schoolteacher. After a series of mishaps, Rammy is mistaken for a holy sage by a gullible rich-girl (Marisa Tomei), and proceeds rides his luck as The Guru of Sex. Rich Manhattanites pay well to receive the erotic philosophy he gleans during his sessions with Sharonna, who thinks she’s giving Rammy porn-acting lessons.
The broad-brush approach taken by The Guru suits the less-than-subtle style of leading-man Mistry hell never be Robert De Niro, but he has some great Travolta-in-Bollywood moves and successfully steers the tricky role of Rammy between the twin hazards of caricature and two-faced unpleasantness. And he makes a stunningly photogenic couple with Graham, the pair of them much better served by the picture than the third corner of the love-triangle: the hapless, second-billed Tomei. Casting Christine Baranski as Tomeis mother was something of a casting coup, but the daughter comes across more as a thinly-veiled snipe at Madonna-ish fad-chasing celebrities than anything approaching a fully-rounded character.
This awkwardness is typical of Tracey Jacksons uneven script, which ultimately stifles whatever boisterous energy mustered by the performers under Von Scherler Mayers rough-and-ready direction. What could and should have been a lively cross-cultural comedy becomes an increasingly ham-fisted series of farcical implausibilities, culminating in a depressingly over-familiar chaos-outside-the-wedding finale that makes you appreciate the equivalent scene in The Royal Tenenbaums as a masterpiece of comic timing. The Guru is amateur-hour stuff in comparison. This is a real movie, and I am the star! proclaims Rammy/Mistry during a porn shoot and, for a few seconds, you can just about go along with the delusion.
25th June 2002
(provisional cut seen 14th June, UCI Silverlink, North Shields)
by Neil Young