TODAY SPECIAL (Dir. David Kaplan, 2009)
The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi gets his first leading role in this light yet lovable comedy about a frustrated New York City chef who is inspired to revitalize his father’s failing Indian restaurant.
When told by his boss (Dean Winters) that his cooking doesn’t turn him on (“where’s my boner?” is Winters’s exact words), Mandvi quits his sous chef job at an upscale bistro and decides to go to Paris in hopes of apprenticing with a master chef.
The ill health of Mandvi’s father (Harish Patel) changes his plans, and he finds himself running the run down Tandoori Palace, where the greasy cuisine of the highly unsanitary chef (Ajay Naidu) has been reliably running off patrons.
Mandvi tries to take control of the kitchen resulting in Naidu storming off, so he turns to a worldly cabdriver (Bollywood star Naseeruddin Shah)who happens to be a gourmet chef full of fortune cookie wisdom.
Mandvi jokes that Shah lifts his advice - like “the man who measures life, never knows his own measure” - actually from fortune cookies, and Shah admits that he does in one of many smile-inducing if not laugh-out-loud funny moments.
To flesh out this foodie-centric tale of a chef getting his groove back by way of the magic of the masala, there’s the spunky Jess Weixler as the love interest, Madhur Jaffrey as Mandvi’s mother, and in a small part, Kevin Corrigan as the supportive wise-cracking best friend.
While there’s nothing new about the scenario of our protagonist in the underdog world of indie film – he’s a man weary of failing in his career, not living up to the memory of his dead brother in his parent’s eyes, and not finding the right mate – Mandvi inhabits the character with a convincing soul and a humility that is thoroughly endearing.
Adapted from Mandvi’s award winning play “Sakrina’s restaurant”, TODAY'S SPECIAL isn’t very imaginatively filmed and has a very predictable formula, but it’s a film with a lot of heart, and one that’s cute – not too cutesy.
I enjoyed it as it bopped from scene to scene with a sprightly soundtrack full of Indian standards and tracks from the indie rock band Goldspot.
With this and Ed Helms’ winning role in the just released CEDAR RAPIDS, it’s nice to see Daily Show correspondents making good movie-wise.
TODAY'S SPECIAL is now playing exclusively in the Triangle at the Colony Theater in Raleigh. Check the theater’s website for show-times.