Outsourced (1 out of 4 stars)
Did you know that people in India do not eat with their left hands? It’s considered taboo, as the left hand is used to wipe one’s bottom after using the restroom. In many ways, Outsourced (2006)—a purportedly light-hearted romantic romp in the culturally-rich subcontinent—proceeds to wipe its ass, repeatedly, with India.
The real mystery of the film is, why do I care so much? I don’t mean that in the grander, third-person sense of “Why should the film-goer care about these characters?”, but more in the “Why do I have such strong feelings of ire towards this colossal meh of a film?”
Very few critics seemed to register Outsourced on their radars and those who did, seemed to find this “sweetly acted and neatly executed” film was completely charming. So why did it grate on my nerves so badly that I stopped it three-quarters of the way through the first time, only to re-watch it a week later simply to take notes on why I hated it so much? (I did hate it slightly less the second time, so if I watch it 30 times, perhaps it will become my Citizen Kane.)
I’m reminded of the time I went with a film reviewer friend to an early screening of Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj (2006). And, no, I am not proud to say that that event happened in my life. Anyway, after the film—a fetid turd of a movie—I spent a good 10 minutes extolling on its various failures in the art of cinematography. My friend finally turned to me and said; “You’re giving this too much thought; it was a shitty movie.”
After more careful reflection than is deserved, I believe I hate Outsourced because of its embrace and perpetuation of the idea of The Other. Those years spent in undergraduate studies in cultural anthropology are so deeply ingrained that I can’t watch a shitty indie flick about white people getting diarrhea in India without getting my sensitive liberal panties all in a bunch.
To quickly summarize the plot of the film:
The story opens with Todd (Josh Hamilton), a thoroughly Caucasian male living and working in Seattle as mid-management for a morally dubious mail-order company that sells tacky Americana knick-knacks that are manufactured in China. His job is put on the line when his boss announces that Western Novelty is outsourcing all call center work to India. For reasons that are required by the plot, but make little sense to the viewer, Todd is essentially black-mailed into going to India to train his replacement, as well as the Indian call center “outsourcers.”
Todd lands in Mumbai, where he and the audience are immediately bombarded with the differences between us and The Other(s). To wit; Indian cab drivers practically assault Todd as they vie for the privilege of driving his sweaty white whiney ass to his final destination. Scruffy Indian children pick his pocket. His name is mispronounced “Toad” by a group of Indian actors who seem to have no problem acting like a cast of flesh and blood Apu Nahasapeemapetilons. (Hey, I get it; we all gotta pay the rent.)
A gola vender that Todd meets when he touches down in base camp might as well have been Jerry Lewis in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for all the histrionics involved. In a scene that is telegraphed from the moment of the opening credits, Todd suffers urgent intestinal distress from said gola and is inevitably confronted with a squat toilet sans toilet paper. Todd slowly holds up his left hand and looks at it with defeated resolution as we cut to the next scene. Whoa, boy! Looks like Toad got more than he bargained for! Am I right?!
We’re soon introduced to Asha (Ayesha Dharker), a beautiful call center employee, natural born leader and the only person in the film that is mildly capable of examining the ethically ambiguous American business practice of installing work centers in other countries and treating the people as a disposable, low-rent means to an end.
Asha and Todd are shoved together in a contrived and unlikely, but quite predictable, romance. Asha is Pocahontas to Todd’s John Smith, and the Indian actors and actresses are relegated to either Noble Savage (Asha and Todd’s replacement) or Cultural Comic Relief (everyone else). Only once Todd opens up and “gives in” to India, is he permitted happiness, and only then will he find the strength to save the Indians.
During one of the film’s brief flirtations with smart writing, Asha wonders why Americans can be so up-in-arms about outsourcing when they readily buy cheap crap that is manufactured in other countries for a fraction of the cost.
It’s frustrating that Outsourced gently raises some potentially intelligent points about colonialist history and it’s relation to outsourcing only to once again resort to sight gags about cows in office buildings or other excruciating scenes, including one in which the call center employees recite lines from Jerry Maguire and Taxi Driver for reasons that are never clarified.
While we don’t need a dissertation on American consumerism and the history of white imperialism in Asian and African countries, a little more than a passing comment would have been appreciated.
The real bummer of this movie—other than that I watched it twice, instead of sleeping or painting my toenails—is that I think the director genuinely liked his subject matter. The movie seemingly was written and made with affection and perhaps what was mistakenly believed to be regard for Indian culture. It’s a shame that all of the characters are so painfully one-dimensional that the film essentially is an hour-long-plus caricature of Indian culture. I think I’ve experienced more cultural accuracy in the curry section of Whole Foods.
Rental Rehab review by Tricia