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The Guru (R)
Official Site
Director: Daisy von Scherler Mayer
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Michael London
Written by: Tracey Jackson
Cast: Jimi Mistry, Heather Graham, Marisa Tomei, Christine Baranski, Michael McKean, Emil Marwa, Dwight Ewell, Dash Mihok, Malachy McCourt

Rating: out of 5

This is about the silliest thing I’ve seen this side of Neptune’s Daughter—a 1949 musical comedy starring that million dollar mermaid, Esther Williams—which I thought took the cake for pure wackiness and ignorant fun.

Ramu Gupta (Mistry) leaves his family and his dance-instructor job behind to pursue his dreams of fame and fortune in America. Disillusionment sets in immediately when his homie Vijay (Marwa) meets Ramu in a yellow cab instead of the limo described in his letters, conveys him to a two-room “penthouse” that they share with two other Indian immigrants, and gets Ramu a job as a waiter. Undaunted, Ramu hauls his headshots around town, winding up at Ramrod Productions. Having utterly mistaken the nature of this company’s films, Ramu strips down to his whitey-tighties and slays the producer with a spirited audition—Tom Cruise’s Risky Business dance number. This performance allows Dwain (McKean) to assess Ramu’s sizable “talents,” cast him as the male lead in a porno film, opposite Ramrod’s star, Sharonna (Graham). Unfortunately, whenever the director calls “action,” Ramu finds himself, shall we say, unprepared for thespian greatness.

To keep his job, Ramu gets Porn 101 tutoring from the thoroughly professional Sharonna, who’s pretending that her day job is substitute teaching in order to be worthy of her wholesome Catholic fiance (Mihok). When the Indian guru scheduled to sling some bullshit for a bunch of rich white partygoers conks out, the caterer gets Ramu to step in. Lacking readymade bullshit of his own, Ramu gives the partyers pseudomystical renditions of Sharonna’s sex tips, winning several converts on the spot, including the host’s daughter Lexi (Tomei), a hopeless follower of enlightenment fads. With Lexi’s drive and money and Sharonna’s sexual philosophy, Ramu becomes The Guru Of Sex.

And did I mention that this is a musical?

One of the happiest comebacks in movies, to my mind, is the return of the musical. The last couple of years have given us Moulin Rouge, 8 Women, Chicago, and now The Guru. The return of meringue-light entertainment is cause for celebration. A balanced film diet should have room for the serious, the heart-rending, the uplifiting, and the artistic as well as a bathing beauty and improbable synchronized water exercises or folks bursting into song. Some people make cinema and some make entertainment. Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer (Party Girl, Madeline, Woo) makes no bones about her work. She’s clearly here for the fun stuff. It’s tempting to place The Guru in the guilty-pleasures category, but why should we feel guilty? What, after all, did we learn from Sullivan’s Travels if not that a movie that provides a good laugh is a good day’s work? Mayer does a good day’s work indeed, providing an engaging romance, a fun comedy, and cool musical numbers, as well as an unforgettable valentine to Grease by way of Bollywood.

In The Guru, we get a very good laugh from the old old story of two people pretending to be what they are not, all the while falling in love with each other (and singing and dancing). There are absolutely no plot surprises here, from the scene where they almost kiss to the big public confession scene (this one on “Sally Jesse Raphael”) to the big public declaration-of-love scene. The Guru is totally a boilerplate romantic comedy, but it’s such an imaginatively and entertainingly festooned boilerplate that it’s okay. Naturally everything’s going to come out all right in the end. And like Jump Tomorrow, another wonderful multi-cultural romance, it comes out all right for everybody.

In the best tradition of movies about the porn industry, The Guru adds amusing euphemisms to the growing lexicon of auto-eroticism. Heather Graham’s sweet porn star in this rather broad comedy is a far cry from Boogie Nights’ Roller Girl. Christine Baranski is very good as Lexi’s mocking, rich bitch mother, who gets her… comeuppance.

Remember that moment when Marshall McLuhan stepped out from behind that sign and corrected an insufferable blowhard in Annie Hall, and Woody Allen said, “If only life were really like this!” Well I say, if only real life gave us opportunities to respond to day-to-day situations with song and dance.

—Roxanne Bogucka



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