“The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, or “ERMAGERD, STAHP” by Caitlin McGrane

Posted on June 9, 2013

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for quite a while. I’m always intrigued by films exploring religious fundamentalism (see last week’s column). I even dragged some friends along, although Mark Kermode wasn’t all that impressed with some parts of the story (everything about Kate Hudson).

There is something deeply unsettling about polite, calm people you suspect of being violent (the best example of this is probably Brick Top in Snatch). The Reluctant Fundamentalist wanted and tried to convey this, but instead it ended up as a thumping cliché.

FUNDAMENTALIST!

FUNDAMENTALIST!

So let’s start with what’s good. Some individual scenes are exceptional. During the opening, beautiful Pakistani music reaches a crescendo at the perfect moment and the harmony is magnificent. The scenes in which the protagonist Changez (Riz Ahmed) is the victim of awful racism are very good, although they are slightly ham-fisted in their approach. Some brilliant scenes interspersed throughout the film feature Changez and journalist Bobby (Liev Schreiber) in a café. Initially, as Changez tells his story he is slightly menacing for fractions of a second, then that approach seems fall by the wayside.

Now let’s talk about what’s bad, which is mostly the rest of the film. For starters Kate Hudson as Erica, Changez’s girlfriend, is painful to watch. I just cannot believe in her as an artist and to make matters worse she’s the complete embodiment of rich, white girl ignorance and privilege. Hudson is woefully miscast and I would have preferred to see Anne Hathaway in the role (I imagined like Maggie in Love and Other Drugs). The one redeeming feature is that if we all put our feminist hats on for a second (lolz, are they ever off?), it was refreshing to see both the male and female characters manipulating each other. Erica’s a nutter, certainly, but Changez is not a saint either.

And the dialogue! It’s so bad that my eyes almost rolled out of my skull. There are whole scenes that are just dripping with clichéd nonsense and most of them involve Erica or Changez’s boss Jim (Kiefer Sutherland). Sutherland is borderline sociopathic and I could never imagine someone as sensitive (and clever, Jesus Christ, the guy’s meant to be a genius) as Changez becoming attached to him.

Sociopathic Shizzz with Kiefer Sutherland and Riz Ahmed

Let’s not forget Wainwright (Nelsan Ellis from True Blood) who spent the whole film as Lafayette in a suit, because everyone loves a sassy black dude. In a film criticising the stereotyping of Muslims after 9/11, it was painfully ironic to watch this film pigeonhole Ellis, with lines like “Jerk chicken reminds me of where I come from but I don’t smear it all over my face.” In the words of G.O.B, “COME ON!”

I’ll end with this: Riz Ahmed is a total babe and a passably decent actor in places. The scenes in Pakistan are rather well done; however, those moments were not enough for me to get over the rest of the film, they merely provided me with opportunities not to leave.

My advice can be boiled down thus: don’t see this. Instead watch Waltz with Bashir if you want a thought-provoking film about the Middle East.

When attempting to wheel out tired old stereotypes, to Mira Nair (director), I have only this to say: please don’t try to piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. #endrant

Caitlin McGrane is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident film reviewer. Her column, Here. Hare. Here. is released every Friday.

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