Ocean Park Pictures // 2006 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // August 6th, 2008
Todd just lost his job. Now he has to find his life.
A surprisingly fresh and fun comedy, Outsourced takes the standard romantic comedy, fires the staff, and ships everything off to an Indian call center. Hilarity, as you can well imagine, ensues.
Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton, Diggers) is a successful call center manager for a kitschy manufacturer of junk -- American eagle statues, Cheesehead hats; you name it, they sell it. Things are going well for him right up to the point where his boss drops the bomb: his department is being outsourced to India and he is being fired...right after he travels there and trains his new replacement.
When Todd arrives in India, bewildered and disoriented, his replacement, Purohit N. Virajnarianan (Asif Basra) greets him affectionately as Mr. Toad. The call center is still being built and is full of cows. Electric cables crackle menacingly from exposed wall panels. To top it all off, everything Todd eats seems to give him a serious case of...distress.
Todd needs to get the call center up to speed or else he can't go home. On the other hand, completing the job means his termination. Plus, there is that attractive young call center worker, Asha (Ayesha Dharker, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones) who keeps catching his eye. The longer Todd spends in India, the more he realizes he might be exactly where he needs to be.
Outsourcing as a theme to a romantic comedy? 'Tis a gusty and most noble proposition for this fair film, but one that works marvelously well; surprisingly well, even. Outsourced effortlessly blends social and racial tension into a charming love tale, which is the last thing one expects to come out of that mix.
The majority of the film is your standard romantic comedy formula: man down on his luck and scorned by love finds it in the most unlikely of places, right in front of his eyes, etc, etc., we've seen it all before dozens -- nay, hundreds of times. The added twist is the cultural shock of sending the poor schlub off to India, where he speaks naught the language, eats all the wrong foods, sticks his foot firmly into every cultural taboo imaginable and still manages to win the heart of the hot Indian girl. Aww, you gotta love it. Outsourced balances between mocking cultural stereotypes with a grain of truth, and just plain mocking cultural stereotypes as a gross exaggeration, but never tips too far into political correctness or terrible offense. The end result is a film that is funny and fresh and one surprisingly profound on the subject of the effect of globalization, not just on the poor white businessman whose job vanished, but on the people our economy hires to work for fractions of his wage.
It is puzzling to explore the back story to Outsourced. The film is from 2006 and, despite positive reaction and awards at numerous film festivals worldwide, failed to secure any attention or theatrical presence. Two years later, it finally limps onto DVD through a small distributor with little fanfare. Apparently, writer/director Jason Jeffcoat's screenplay was a hit with studios, but nobody wanted to bankroll his directorial debut, citing his lack of experience. Bad decision on their part: Outsourced is fun and snappy, with a directorial style that completely belies any inexperience on Jeffcoat's part. Choosing to do it Jeffcoat's way and opting to release the film on a small scale, Outsourced took a principled hit, sacrificing audience reach. This could have been a big hit in that same way My Big Fat Greek Wedding was, but alas, few will get to appreciate its charms.
Outsourced is a comedy set in India, so let's run through the Comedy Set in a Foreign Land checklist: jokes about the Kama Sutra, hole-in-the-ground toilets, sacred cows, red forehead dots, spicy diarrhea-inducing food, arranged marriages, unpronounceable names, Calcutta-style orphan pickpockets? Check, check, checkity-check-check! Sure, it's all a bit predictable, but it's also a lot of fun. The humor is always good-spirited and never nasty or overly offensive, hitting that perfect balance between South Park cultural insensitivity and say, NPR-style sterility and overt political correctness. What the film does hit home is how Todd's own life becomes more and more ridiculous when viewed through an international lens; the film gives both cultures the business when deserved, without apology.
One element of the film I especially enjoyed was the puzzled questions put to Todd as he travels to India to train his replacement staff. Their jobs are to take orders for Archie McPhee-like crap; faux-Americana garbage manufactured in Taiwan, sold by Indians pretending to be from "Chicaaaaago" (pinch your nose during the "aaaa" part to emulate the company's verbal training). Of course, here comes the inevitable question: Why do Americans need electric hot dog warmers and hats shaped like giant wedges of cheese? Todd, of course, has no good answer...but apparently enough people yearn for these novelty items to put him out of a job in favor of cheap labor. Oh, the thrilling train-wreck that is globalization: so sensible, yet so foolish at the same time.
Outsourced is a lovely surprise -- a film that belies its strengths, charms, and passion behind a veil of obscurity. People will easily pass it over in the rental store, which is a screaming nightmare of a shame. It is exotic, charming, and fun, with a perfect balance between romantic sentimentality and intellectual honesty about its admittedly complex subject choice. It might be a coy piece of marketing, but the packaging sums the film up quite nicely: "Through a series of misadventures, this charming, critically acclaimed romantic comedy reminds us that sometimes getting lost is the best way to find yourself."
Amen, clever marketing. Amen.
The anamorphic transfer is solidly average, with a nicely vibrant and saturated color palate of reds and yellows, highlighting the natural vividness of India (filmed on location, of course). Black levels, contrast levels, and detail levels are nothing to write home about, but considering the wealth of extras and full surround track crammed onto a single disc, quite acceptable. For audio, we get stereo and 5.1 Surround of your choosing, with optional English subtitles. The stereo is fine, but the Surround is especially tight, with good solid bass, excellent use of rear channels, and environmental placement. The tracks really spread out into the left and right channels, giving the whole sonic experience a wide, resonant presentation. One thing I especially like is how the Hindi dialogue spoken is not translated when Todd is on camera. Since he has no idea what anyone is saying, neither do we. I like that little touch.
For a single disc, the supplements are respectable. We get a commentary track with director/writer John Jeffcoat, producers David Skinner and Tom Gorai, and actress Ayesha Dharker. A behind-the-scenes series of six mini-featurettes (with a "play all" feature) breaks the shoot down by production, sound, wild animals, and set construction, running about 12 minutes total. A storyboarding featurette with director John Jeffcoat and cinematographer Teodoro Maniaci runs a quick 8 minutes, interjecting storyboard drawings and footage from the film with commentary overtop. Add to that another 8-minute interview with director Jeffcoat, a "what were they saying" Hindi dialogue translation featurette, a music video, and a theatrical trailer to round out the extras. All told, not a bad offering.
At its worst, Outsourced is charmingly preposterous in the way all romantic comedies can be: a non-stop comedy of errors, unrealistic reactions, chance encounters and serendipity that fuels the genre forward into a predictable and happy ending. It is guilty in this regard, but no more than any other film of the genre.
I also doubt that call centers in India have cows in them, no matter how rural they might be. Call me cynical.
Surprisingly engaging and honest, Outsourced succeeds due to generous amounts of sincerity and charm, deftly mingling commentary on globalization into romance and comedy. It balances its overwhelming sentimentality and heart with an obvious love and appreciation of India, and love and care radiate in every cinematic frame. This is the kind of film that will slide completely under the radar of the general public, which is a shame. With enough advertising behind it, this one could have been a hit.
At the very least, it will definitely make you think twice about screaming obscenities at the next call center person you speak to.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ocean Park Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, with Hindi)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, with Hindi)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Audio Commentary with Producers David Skinner and Tim Gorai, Director/Writer John Jeffcoat and Actress Ayesha Dharker
* "Behind-the-Scenes of Outsourced" featurettes
* "Storyboarding Outsourced: A Discusson with Cinematographer Teodoro Maniaci and Director John Jeffcoat"
* Interview with Director/Writer John Jeffcoat
* "What were they saying?" Hindi Translation Featurette
* Music Video: Holi Aaya by BC Smith featuring CJ Virdi
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site