Barry Alexander Brown, Spike Lee's longtime editor, made his directorial bow with this sunny but slight film about one immigrant's brush with America.
LONELY IN AMERICA's protagonist is Arun (Ranjit Chowdhry), a young man brought to New York City at the behest of his Uncle Max (Tirlok Malik), a newsstand tycoon who imports relatives from India to work for pitiable pay at his city-wide chain of magazine racks. All Max's wage slaves dwell
crammed together in one tiny flat, and Arun is added to the heap as he staffs a kiosk in the atrium of a busy office building.
Arun applies himself enthusiastically to the lowly job, even though his background is in computers. In one of the film's many contrived only-in-America plot twists, a big corporation in the building mistakes Arun for their long-awaited mainframe expert and he finds himself gainfully employed.
Next Arun gets his own apartment, because his married supervisor, Jim (Robert Kessler), needs someone as a front for the place he keeps to rendezvous with his mistress.
But Arun's high-flying career is suddenly ended by backstabbing office politics. He loses his new job, gets tossed out of the apartment, faces homelessness, and falls back into the clutches of Uncle Max, who tries to bring his prodigal nephew back to the family via a traditional Indian arranged
marriage. At the last minute, Arun backs out of the wedding and moves in with his true love/best pal Faye (Adelaide Miller), an executive at that big corporation who's fond of the plucky newcomer. "Now I'm quite ready to melt right into the big pot," writes Arun to his mother back home.
Despite contemporary trappings, LONELY IN AMERICA is at heart an old-fashioned yarn that makes obvious points about the immigrant experience in an obvious fashion, following the predictable arc of achievement and adversity familiar from sources as diverse as Horatio Alger novels and "CROCODILE"
DUNDEE. Arun's missives to his mother serve as voice-over narration and spoonfeed the hero's feelings of elation, rootlessness, alienation, and disillusionment in the big city, even before they become relevant to the story line. The transparent pathos and glaring cliches are a sharp
disappointment, given that the main character promises a fresh perspective. American movies seldom have use for Indians, Pakistanis, or Bengalis outside of cheap jokes about convenience store clerks or the occasional Temple of Doom, and Arun is portrayed in smart, likeable fashion by
Chowdhry--though he still lapses into silly blunders and pidgin-English speech patterns for the sake of a gag. More consistent, and in some ways more interesting, is co-producer Tirlok Malik as mercenary Uncle Max, who genuinely cares about Arun even as he exploits him and his peers as cheap
labor. Arun subsequently adopts yuppie Jim as his role model for some unrewarding fish-out-of-water humor in which the immigrant makes a fool out of himself as a would-be ladies' man; he even buys a Bible in order to pick up girls, and director Brown has a cameo as a Gospel-peddling Central Park
evangelist. Spike Lee has a much funnier bit as a patron at Arun's newsstand. Brown shares with Lee an obvious love for New York and a tendency toward weak, episodic narratives, and one of LONELY IN AMERICA's undeniable assets is a dynamic opening credit montage of magazine covers, reminiscent of
the funky street signs that commenced Lee's JUNGLE FEVER. (Adult situations, sexual situations, excessive profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Barry Alexander Brown, Spike Lee's longtime editor, made his directorial bow with this sunny but slight film about one immigrant's brush with America. LONELY IN AMERICA's protagonist is Arun (Ranjit Chowdhry), a young man brought to New York City at th… (more)