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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Namesake is a mature drama about two generations of a Bengali family living in New York is a great movie to watch with your teens. Like most immigrant narratives, the story includes deaths, births, marriages, break-ups, and other important milestones that mark a family's history. A son's disinterest in his Indian culture -- and his unusual name, Gogol -- is the central theme of the film. Like most immigrant children, he and his sister sometimes ridicule and resent their parents' traditions. The mature subject matter includes arranged marriage, adultery, discrimination, cultural differences, parental deaths, and -- most important -- self-identity. A brief scene shows the victims of a train crash, and there are a few passionate love scenes.
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What's the story?
Based on Jhumpa Lahiri's acclaimed novel, THE NAMESAKE is a heartfelt depiction of two generations of a Bengali-American family. At the center of the story is Gogol Ganguli (Kal Penn), the oddly named son of a professor and his traditional Indian wife. He's late to his high-school graduation party because he's passing around a joint with his best pals. And after graduating from Yale, he prefers to hang out with his Manhattan-bred (read: "white") girlfriend and her wealthy parents than visit his parents in Westchester. But a sudden tragedy brings him home, both physically and emotionally. In dealing with his intense grief, Gogol rediscovers the meaning of his name, which is tied not only to the Russian author his father admired but a life-changing event in his father's life. Gogol's reexamination leads him to a new life with a fiercely modern -- but still Bengali -- wife and a deeper appreciation for his parents.
Is it any good?
Mira Nair's adaptation faithfully and richly translates the much-loved book and as Gogol, Kal Penn perfectly emotes the complexity of being raised in the States by immigrant parents. Yet while the titular character is Penn's, the movie's strength lies in Gogol's parents, Ashima and Ashoke, who are played by Indian stars Tabu (a gorgeous actress with glowing skin and telling eyes) and Irfan Khan (a quiet force throughout the film). They're the true immigrants, dealing with the radical cultural shift between their homeland and the United States. The kids grow up mostly American, but the parents must constantly navigate both worlds.
Powerful family films are rare, especially when most cinematic families consist of idiot husbands, their long-suffering wives, and annoyed kids. For once, forego the belly laughs (although the film offers plenty of funny moments) and experience the touching journey that is The Namesake.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Namesake's themes of immigration and identity. If your family is from another country, discuss what makes your cultural heritage distinct.
Kids: Do you feel like Gogol and Sonia when it comes to your customs? And if you aren't from another country, what parts of the relationship between parents and kids are universal?
Families can also discuss how the media treat other cultures -- and immigrants -- in general. Do some groups get treated differently from others? Why?
- In theaters: March 9, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: November 27, 2007
- Cast: Irrfan Khan, Jacinda Barrett, Kal Penn
- Director: Mira Nair
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Humility
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sexuality/nudity, a scene of drug use, some disturbing images and brief language.
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