' Cinema Romantico: Outsourced

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Outsourced

Currently in the midst of a one-week only run at the Siskel Center (translation: sorry, but you'll have to wait for the DVD) director John Jeffcoat's "Outsourced" is in possession of a wonderfully expository title. It takes all but one scene for fairly bland Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) to learn the call center he manages ("we sell kitsch to rednecks") is being outsourced to India. He is not fired, however. His boss asks him to go overseas and ensure the new center gets its average per call time down from fifteen minutes to six. "I'm not going to India," Todd says. Cut to the next scene and, guess what, he's in India.

Once there, cultures, of course, clash. Everyone calls Todd Mr. Toad despite his corrections. He eats his with his left hand and is promptly advised against this - "The left hand is considered unclean." His new employees wonder why Americans have interest in buying items such as cheeseheads.

One employee, as she must, stands out from the rest, Asha (Ayesha Dharker). She challenges Todd when others will not. He suggests they need to learn about America. She suggests he needs to learn about India. Will they fall for one another? Almost certainly, but how will the situation play itself out?

This is where "Outsourced" deviates from the usual course of this sort of film. Rather than suffering from Overly-Excitable-Puppy-Syndrome, as in a movie grabbing you by the arms, refusing to let go and screaming over and over "LOVE ME!" as it piles hi-jink on top of hi-jink and drowns its million-dollar making stars in way too many closeups, "Outsourced" is a much more low-key affair. You may recognize Josh Hamilton as Grover from the wonderous "Kicking and Screaming", the guy who's been to Prague but hasn't "been to Prague, been to Prague". His nature is identical to that of "Outsourced". Neither over-embellishes or makes grand, dramatic gestures when a mere half-grin will do.

There are a couple plot reversals, yes, as there must be (there's also a terrible, albeit brief, "chance" encounter with another American early in the film that should have been cut as its purpose is actually made more clear in the following scenes and without such forced dialogue), but they are not necessarily the ones you're expecting and they don't really muck up the characters' trajectory. The lives of Todd and Asha are ripe for a certain sort of tragedy to play out but "Outsourced" wisely sidesteps it.

On a 90 degree summer day in Chicago it can't get a lot better. It doesn't try too hard, doesn't pummel you, doesn't numb your brain more than it already is. It just wants to hum along at its own pace and make you smile and forget your troubles.

Most importantly, though, "Outsourced" functions as a fantastic case study of those anciently irritating cinematic comments. You know the sort, "That would never happen in real life", or "I didn't really buy that...." (fill in the blank). Well, I've served time in a call center. A lot of time. And I can tell you for an absolute fact no call center is lowering its per call time from 15 minutes to 6 minutes in three weeks. End of story.

And you know what? I couldn't have cared less.

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