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Growing Up Smith
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Growing Up Smith is a 1970s-set coming-of-age comedy that grapples with the hardships immigrants face, as well as young love, familial duty, and the role that tradition plays in many lives, for better or for worse. The central immigrant family, which hails from India, encounters prejudice and ignorance as well as warmth and acceptance. A teenage Indian girl's old-world parents catch her kissing her American boyfriend and are appalled; a 10-year-old boy has a crush on the girl next door. Teens are seen drinking, and an adult appears to be drunk. Adults smoke cigarettes. A boy shoots a squirrel, and a man accidentally shoots his own leg while deer hunting. There's some cruel taunting and bullying among kids, and a 10-year-old boy drives a truck. An enraged father says "hell"; other language includes "d--k," "butt naked," and "whore."
What's the story?
In GROWING UP SMITH, 10-year-old Smith (Roni Akurati) just wants to be a good ol' American boy. But that goal seems unreachable, since his over-protective, traditional Hindu parents maintain vegetarian diets, worship an array of Hindu gods, and look down on full assimilation, even while also wanting to fit in. Patriarch Bhaaskar (Anjul Nigam, who's also one of the screenwriters) advises his wife, son, and daughter to always say "How doin'?" -- because, he assures them, Americans like to be addressed that way. But conflict arises as Smith and his sister grow to love America and its freedoms, while their parents cling to an authoritarian plan for their children's futures ... including arranged marriages. Smith, who's fallen for the girl next door, bridles at the thought of marrying a stranger. And his older sister, betrothed to an Indian mate back home, is in her own state of secret rebellion, sneaking around with her non-Indian boyfriend. When her parents find out, she's grounded for life. "What suitable Indian boy would marry you now?" her mother asks in horror. "You've been enjoyed!" Meanwhile, kind but hapless neighbor Butch (Jason Lee) offers support to Smith, but he has money and marriage problems of his own that cause the kind of instability the stricter Indian household frowns upon.
Is it any good?
This comedy strains to be charming, but we've seen it all before. Yes, it's adorable when a young Indian boy wearing a white vest dances to the Bee Gees' "Saturday Night Fever" songs. But Growing Up Smith falls back on scene after scene of cliches and condescendingly shows foreign parents being clueless about American ways. They mix up common expressions and completely miss the fact that their daughter has a secret American boyfriend. And this is in spite of their supposedly ultra-controlling, overprotective parenting style. Maybe the film's low budget (it was reportedly made for $2 million) didn't allow for addressing these issues.
Plus, important plot turns -- some of which contradict important assumptions established earlier in the movie -- are glossed over carelessly. And stereotypes abound. Jason Lee's Butch, while a nice guy, is still a cliche: He's a good ol' uneducated, deer hunting, beer drinking, meat-eating mechanic who can't pay the mortgage and enjoys riding his motorcycle. On the other hand, Smith's parents preach honor and decency, but for nothing more than a childish prank, they banish their 10-year-old son to India for 19 years. That may be honorable, but the decency is questionable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Growing Up Smith depicts the immigrant experience. What do you think might be different today, vs. the late 1970s, when the movie takes place? What might be the same? How hard do you think it would be to leave home for another country and acclimate to a different culture and language?
How does the movie portray bullying? Why do people sometimes lash out at things/people who are different? What motivates those actions?
Smith's parents want him to grow up identifying with the values and traditions of India and the Hindu religion, while Smith loves American culture. Do you think this is a common struggle in families that leave one country behind for another?
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