Judge Brett Cullum found this "coming out" tale to be more than just another humdrum gay cinema entry, thanks to a hefty dose of cleverness.
Alim: She still keeps plastic on the furniture.
What do you call a "chick flick" made for gay guys? I've been racking my brain and can only come up with a very crude, possibly offensive term—"dick flick." That moniker conjures more of a sense of porn, but I'm hoping you get the gist of where I am going. Touch of Pink is a "chick flick" for guys who like guys. It's Down With Love for the Stonewall set. It is also part of a prominent subgenre in gay movies, the "coming out story." I groaned when I realized I was about to sit through another film where a gay guy has to come out to his family, but this one saves itself with some unusual clever twists and surprising ingredients. The leading man is Alim (Jimi Mistry, The Guru, Ella Enchanted). He's an Indian Muslim guy raised in Canada but living in London. Alim has a great job, a hot boyfriend (Kristen Holden-Reid, K-19: The Widowmaker), and imagines Cary Grant (Kyle MacLachlan, Sex and the City, Twin Peaks, Showgirls) is his spiritual guide. Alim's widowed mother Nuru (Sue Mathew, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven) has no clue he's gay (she suspects), and makes an impromptu visit from Toronto to London to urge him to come to his cousin's big fat Indian wedding.
The movie is a samosa—a light piece of pastry filled with surprising ingredients and spicy dialogue. It's great fun, and I smiled all the way through it. Touch of Pink's title comes from the Cary Grant/Doris Day vehicle That Touch of Mink. It often lifts entire sequences and dialogue from that movie, as well as Charade, Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Gunga Din and His Girl Friday. It borrows its style mainly from the bedroom comedies of the '50s and '60s, and does that quite successfully. The only time it falters is when it tries to pick up the tempo of '30s screwball comedies, which it never seems to reach. There's a lot of stuff packed in here, as you can imagine. It's overflowing with subplots and poignant moments that keep it moving at a brisk pace.
I'm a little confused by this title's R rating. Touch of Pink never has any love scenes, and the language is never graphic (it keeps very true to the conventions of a '50s comedy like Pillow Talk). Seems like the MPAA just wanted to slap it with an R for the fact two guys kiss in one or two sequences. If you're renting Touch of Pink for the chance of nudity or titillation, you will walk away severely disappointed. It's a gay movie you could feasibly watch with your whole family. Ironically that is where the movie really shines. The mother and son relationship between Alim and Nuru is delivered far better than Alim's relationship with his boyfriend. Nuru rocks! She's played with an incredible dose of spunk by Sue Mathew (billed in this film by her Indian name of Suleka). Her journey to an acceptance of her son's lifestyle is the reason the movie works so well. I loved her the minute she dons a Chanel suit and proclaims "I moved to London to become an Indian Doris Day!" Kyle MacLachlan turns in a brilliant impersonation of Cary Grant as a guardian angel as well. He's never been better or more sexy, and it almost made me forget his regrettable choices in projects since his David Lynch days. He gets Grant's speech pattern down remarkably well, and overcomes a rather low budget make-up job by physically becoming Cary. He's so much fun, and you almost wish he'd attempt a biopic of the actor at some point.
The only problem comes in Alim's rather unconvincing relationship with boyfriend Giles. Jimi Mistry is straight in real life and so is his co-star. They seem immensely uncomfortable when they have to do bedroom scenes or kisses (which thankfully happen infrequently). Mistry seems to have more chemistry with MacLachlan, and maybe that is somewhat intentional since the plot is about a guy who escapes his own relationship problems with an imagined movie star. Seems like the director Ian Iqbal Rashid is trying too hard to cover a lot of ground, and forgot to give us a really compelling reason to root for the movie's central couple. They seem to cheat on each other with alarming ease, and I almost expected a "This just isn't working for me let's be friend" speech rather than any sort of reconciliation. The film has so much going on with the mother, Cary Grant, and the wedding that the relationship seems superfluous and forgotten most of the time.
The director is obviously working on very personal autobiographical terms with Touch of Pink. From conception to shooting it took Ian Iqbal Rashid eleven years to get his project made, and there is a sense of stuffing everything he can into the movie as if this is his one shot. It was a Sundance favorite as well as a permanent fixture across the country at gay film festivals. It never took off as a mainstream release, and that's partly due to the film's deeply personal look at a gay man and his own turmoil. The film excels in painting a portrait of internalized homophobia. Many critics talk about Alim fighting his family's expectations, and how the story is about him overcoming his Muslim clan's fear of the lifestyle he is leading. I think they miss the real point of the film, which is Alim's own self-hatred of what he has chosen. He not only hides from his mother, but he hides from himself, and only feels comfortable in terms of the Cary Grant figure who often encourages him to keep up his self-denial. The real richness of the movie comes from this struggle, and makes it unique as a "coming out" story. Gay men will laugh in recognition at the common rites of passage when the mother visits. I chuckled when Alim had to "de-gay" his apartment—throwing books into boxes, and removing portraits of nude men before she arrived. Touch of Pink shines best when it deals with these issues rather than the relationship of two men.
How many gay men see their lives in terms of Hollywood movies? They quote them endlessly, and seem to commit entire passages of All About Eve and The Wizard of Oz to memory. Having a movie with Cary Grant guiding a "friend of Dorothy" through a rough patch is a stroke of genius. Whatever shortcomings the film may have are obliterated by a truly ingenious stroke of plotting. I recommend Touch of Pink for Cary Grant and the mother. Without them the movie would be typical gay fare, but with them it rises above the common project. It's a very nice addition to the genre to have a gay light romantic comedy. The whole Indian aspect gives it an even more unique status, and opens up the possibility of perhaps a gay Bollywood extravaganza. (Please, somebody make that!)
The DVD comes with a great commentary, which includes the director, Jimi Mystri, and Kyle McLachlan. They seem to have enjoyed making the movie immensely. Even though it was a Canadian indie Indian production with a low budget, it's something they are proud of. The transfer and sound mix are fine and competent. The "making of" featurette is brief but fun to watch. Sony delivers a pretty comprehensive package when you consider most gay titles are lucky just to make it to the format at all. It should make for a very enjoyable evening with your mom or your boyfriend—perhaps both. I doubt it will cross over into many straight households, but if it does it will be fine considering it's really just a "chick flick" at heart. If you love old Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies and always wish they could have been recast with two guys, here is a new favorite to discover.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Ian Iqbal Rashid and Actors Kyle MacLachlan and Jimi Mistry
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