Friday, February 27, 2009

Katy Wright-Mead 'graduates' to bigger things

A lot of people move to New York City to pursue their dreams only to return broke and defeated or stay and settle from something they never aspired to be. This is not the case for Katy Wright-Mead, a 2001 graduate of Fryeburg Academy.

Wright-Mead, formerly of Fryeburg, Maine, moved to New York City October 2001 and studied for two years at an acting conservatory. Although she thought her career would start in theater, things have played out a bit differently.

“I’ve mostly found myself doing film because I’ve gotten more responses from films,” said Wright-Mead. “I honestly thought that I’d be starting off in theater but I found myself doing film and that’s where I wanted to end up so I am happy where I am right now.”

Wright-Mead has appeared in short films and was the lead in a feature that was never completed. “The Graduates,” Wright-Mead’s first role in a feature length film, will be available online in its entirety this weekend for a free sneak preview (ending 11:59 p.m. March 1) at

“The Graduates” is an indie comedy, and, without the backing of the Hollywood system or a distributor, it can be difficult to get support behind a film, but director Ryan Gielen and his team are giving it a go.

“It was in a handful of festivals and it won awards too, so it did well. It is hard to get comedy into festivals,” said Wright-Mead. “But people really received it well once it got there. It sold out every screening.”

The film has been having sneak preview screenings, but is going to be released nationwide in May.

“It is going to be in cities like Portland, New York, L.A., Chicago, major cities and a lot of the cities the actors are from because you’ve got that built in audience there,” said Wright-Mead.

The film is a teen comedy that follows the formula of so many others before it: a group of friends head down to the beach for one last week of fun before going to college. There’s the typical desperate pursuit to lose virginity.

Ben (Rob Bradford), the lead character, is futilely chasing after the hot girl (Stephanie Lynn) when the best friend (Laurel Reese) is the obvious right choice that he continually turns a blind eye to.

Too often teen movies, especially ones centered on the pursuit of sex, have a glib, smarmy feel and a fixation on gross-out humor. “The Graduates” has a couple low-brow gags, but for the most part it is trying to achieve something more sincere than the average multiplex teen movie.

Gielen is aware of the formulas he is using, but merely uses them as a template in which to slide in some moments of insight. Despite it’s similarity in plot to “American Pie” or “Superbad” the film is closer in spirit to “American Graffiti” or “Dazed and Confused.”

On a story level things are fairly predictable, but there are several moments and lines of dialogue that float up from the party clichés and take you off guard. A scene in which the subject matter of divorce comes up is nicely handled. The scene starts out comedic, but smoothly shifts in tone and nicely balances that line between comedy and drama.

Wright-Mead, who is meeting with HBO for workshopping a play and is producing an industry showcase for actors, has only one scene in “The Graduates,” but it is memorable one and one that shouldn’t be given away. She definitely leaves an impression in her few minutes of screen time.

Like Wright-Mead, this was the first feature for much of cast. The film is populated with solid performances throughout from the small roles, like Wright-Mead’s, to the leads. There’s a realistic chemistry between the five main characters and an unforced quality to the performances.

Watching a film like “The Graduates” reminds you of how much great “undiscovered” talent is truly out there. Unfortunately, sometimes the actors that make it the furthest are the one’s least deserving. On the plus side, “The Graduates” is an excellent calling card for everyone involved.

“It was awesome from beginning to end from the first audition to now trying to promote it," said Wright-Mead. “I am just really excited about the whole thing.”

Oscars 2009: Changing, but still the same

During his interview with Barbara Walters before the Academy Awards, this year’s host Hugh Jackman promised “a little more show and a little less biz.” As the 81st annual Academy Awards began last Sunday it looked like he’d make good on his word. Unfortunately, it turned out to be largely business as usual.

This year was meant to be a reinvention year for the Academy Awards, but the changes seem mostly cosmetic. The orchestra was moved out of the pit and onto the stage in a swinging big-band style. This was nice, but didn’t greatly alter the feel of the evening.

The other big change was having five previous winners in the Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting categories present the awards this year. Each presenter would spend a couple minutes talking about why each nominee’s performance was so great. The speeches ranged from overly ingratiating to sincere praise to gentle ribbing. This was a fine addition that at times grew tiresome and added to the running time.

The choice of Jackman as host was a surprise. Instead of going with the traditional comedian to host, the academy went for an actor more known for dramatic work. But Jackman is also a song and dance man, who found great success on Broadway in “The Boy from Oz.”

Jackman opened the show with a fantastic song and dance reenacting the five best picture nominees (plus “The Dark Knight” perhaps as an unofficial sixth nominee). Billy Crystal had done something similar in the past, but Jackman’s routine had more of a Broadway edge.

The set piece featured cheeky lyrics like “I ironed all my men, and I frosted my Nixon” and a great bit with Best Actress nominee Anne Hathaway being pulled out of the audience to play Richard Nixon to Jackman’s David Frost. There was a romantic tense between the two that probably didn’t exist between the real Frost and Nixon, but, hey, you never know.

About halfway into the ceremony there was a medley of songs from movie musicals compiled by director Baz Luhrmann. Jackman got an assist from Beyonce Knowles and a couple of the actors from “High School Musical” and, as with the opening, the number was an absolute show-stopper. Both routines were well choreographed and presented with energy to spare.

Outside of these two numbers, though, this was a fairly standard Oscar’s presentation, which is a shame because the producers of the ceremony were onto something. If you’re going to have filler between awards, it should be spectacle.

Sadly, as usual the running time was padded out with the inexplicable inclusion of clip shows. There were fewer than usual, but the montages of the best action and romance movies of 2008 were gratuitous and added nothing.

These montages were cleverly parodied in a short film by Judd Apatow featuring Seth Rogan and James Franco in their stoner “Pineapple Express” personas watching and giggling through clips.

One clip shows did work: the always affecting In memoriam montage of those in the film industry who passed away in the previous year. This year it was given extra emotional weight by a live performance from Queen Latifah.

As for the awards themselves, the evening was mostly predictable with nearly all the favorites winning. As expected the late Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor for “The Dark Knight.” There was hardly a dry in the house as his family accepted on
his behalf, which wasn’t surprising, but still quite moving to see.

My personal favorite acceptance speech was when “Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle started jumping up and down at the podium and then explained that years ago he told his kids if he ever won an Oscar he’d do it in the spirit of Tigger.

The night’s one big upset was Sean Penn’s win over Mickey Rourke for Best Actor. Penn, who won for his performance as gay activist turned politician Harvey Milk, started his acceptance speech with a great line: “You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.” He proceeded with a surprisingly humble speech and then switched to activist mode.

In recent years, the academy has been nominating and awarding a more diverse pool of actors and filmmakers and spotlighting films that take on challenging subject matter. The academy knew exactly what they’d get if they gave the award to Penn, and it is probably safe to say they were making a statement by doing so.

Of the presenters, Ben Stiller stole the show with his impression of Joaquin Phoenix’s bizarre recent behavior on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Jack Black also scored a big laugh with how he makes more money doing voice work than acting: “Every year I make a DreamWorks picture, come here and bet everything on Pixar.”

Overall there was plenty of stuff to see, but you had to sit through a lot of slow patches to get to the goods. For all the changes, you’re still dealing with an award show that clocks in at nearly four hours if you include the red carpet. The average American may stay up until midnight for a sporting event, but for an award show? I think not.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Important, powerful portrait of Harvey Milk

“Milk,” Gus Van Sant’s chronicling of Harvey Milk’s (Sean Penn) political career as California’s first openly gay elected official is an important and relevant movie that addresses the still prickly issue of gay rights.

In 1978, Milk fought against Prop 6, a law that would have made firing gay teachers and any public school employees who supported gay rights mandatory. Thirty years later it was Prop 8, a rewrite to California’s state constitution defining marriage as between members of the opposite sex, that gay right’s activists had to contend with. Milk won his vote; the same can’t be said of the Prop 8 vote last November.

The re-creations of Milk’s speeches and debates bring the issue down to its most base level: human rights. Milk’s message, the man and film, was simply that gays be given the same rights as everyone else.

This is a bio-pic, but one that focuses in on Milk’s rise as a politician and leading up to his assassination. We learn little about Milk’s life before he moved from New York to San Francisco. Too often bio-pics become overly muddled with childhood flashbacks, “Milk” side steps this entirely. It is implied that his pre-California life was a repressed one full of tragedy, and we are told enough to understand his drive to fight for gay rights.

Van Sant, working from a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black (HBO’s “Big Love”), delivers a film that seamlessly blends archival footage with re-creations and traditional narrative filmmaking.

Black’s script captures Milk’s humor and compassion in a way that never feels condescending or contrived. Black addresses the film’s issues in a way that is not heavy hand. This is commendably not an exploitive or manipulative piece of propaganda, although I’m sure some will accuse it of that.

As a director, Van Sant has balanced more mainstream work like “Good Will Hunting” and “Finding Forrester” with indie films such as “Elephant” and “Last Days.” “Milk” is his most accessible, broadly appealing film in nearly a decade. It is like he has taken everything has learned from his experimental films and applied it here.

Although Penn, per usual, gives a strong, layered performance, this is not entirely his show. He is surrounded by one of the stronger ensemble casts of 2008,and there are several standout performances.

James Franco gives a nuanced performance (“Pineapple Express”) as Milk’s boyfriend who struggles with sharing him with his political career following several failed attempts to be elected supervisor. Franco, after being stuck playing second fiddle to Tobey Maguire in the “Spider-Man” movies, really came into his own as an actor in 2008.

Emile Hirsh (“Into the Wild”) has a memorably flamboyant energy as Cleve Jones, a member of Milk’s campaign staff. Alison Pill (“Dan in Real Life”) as the one lesbian of the staff brings a hard edge and biting wit. The key to all these performances is that actors aren’t simply “acting gay,” but creating full performances that never slip into broad stereotypes.

Josh Brolin (“W.”) as Dan White, one of Milk’s fellow supervisors, with whom he often comes into conflict, has one of the less showy roles in the film, but he gives a compelling, conflicted performance. Milk and White’s relationship is an uneasy one that takes a tragic turn.

The film’s final scenes are deeply powerful and moving, and would be standing on their own, but they are all the more so because the film has done such a beautiful job creating a portrait of Milk and of his movement.

Friday, February 20, 2009

12 favorite films of 2008

With the Academy Awards Sunday the time seems right to count off my 12 favorite movies from last year. Why 12? Because 10 was not enough. I choose the word favorite over best because I haven’t seen every film of 2008 and I don’t presume to have seen only the best.

“The Bank Job”
This taut little thriller based on London’s Walkie Talkie Robbery in 1971 is a straightforward genre film told extremely well. This isn’t a breezy romp like the “Ocean” movies; instead “The Bank Job” is a throwback to the gritty British crime films of the era in which it is set. The film proves that its star, Jason Statham, can act when given the right material, unfortunately he usually wastes his talents in schlocky action films.

“The Dark Knight”
Writer/director Christopher Nolan’s follow up to “Batman Begins” expands the film from its comic book origins into a fully realized crime epic and deepens and enriches previously presented themes. The film is fueled by the late Heath Ledger’s extraordinary performance as the Joker but is populated by strong performances by Christian Bale in the title role, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”
The latest raunchy romantic comedy from the Judd Apatow-factory stays true to the template of blending crass humor with surprising tenderness. When Jason Segal (“How I Met Your Mother”) is dumped by the title character (Kristen Bell) he heads to Hawaii to try to escape only to run into her with her new rock star lover (Russell Brand). A familiar plot is enlivened by an assortment of funny supporting performances and sharp writing by Segal.

This compelling behind-the-scenes account of the lead up to the historic David Frost (Michael Sheen) interview with Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), in which Frost was able to get Nixon to admit to his involvement in Watergate captures the significance of a major television event, but also satisfies as a piece of drama. Ron Howard's direction is clean and elegant and Langella’s Nixon is so much more than mere impersonation. He manages to capture something deeper.

“Ghost Town”
A misanthropic dentist (Ricky Gervais) is given the ability to see dead people in this charmingly low-key romantic comedy. One persistent spirit (Greg Kinnear) wants Gervais to break up the pending marriage of his widow (Téa Leoni). Gervais, the star of the original “Office,” is known for his snarky humor, but here he reveals a sweet side. Writer/director David Koepp, who is known for thrillers, shows a deft hand for light comedy and the cast is in top form.

“In Bruges”
Two hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Belgium after a botched hit in this unique reworking of tired clichés. This isn’t your typical buddy film or action packed assassin film. There is quiet, poetic beauty throughout the film, which blends a dark, off-beat sense of humor with more serious philosophical questions. The two leads are excellent and a late movie appearance by Ralph Fiennes is fantastic.

“Iron Man”
2008 was a good year for the superhero movie. While “The Dark Knight” took the genre to new levels of sophistication, “Iron Man” is simply a well-crafted film that takes the time to create well-drawn characters and a basis in reality, however tenuous it may be. Robert Downey Jr. is pitch perfect as a playboy billionaire turned hero and he is ably supported by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard.

Gus Van Sant’s chronicling of Harvey Milk’s (Sean Penn) political career as California’s first openly gay elected official is an important and relevant film as the issue of one’s sexuality is still a hot topic. The film addresses the issue in a way that is not heavy handed nor manipulative and does so with humor and heart. Penn gives a nuanced performance and he is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast including Emile Hirsh, James Franco and Josh Brolin.

“Slumdog Millionaire”
Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” centers on how a teen (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai wins India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The film blends hard to watch scenes with a feel-good story that emotionally resonates. Boyle keeps things moving along at the pace of a thriller, but stays focused on the humanity of the story. Cleverly structured, imaginatively directed and well acted.

“The Visitor”
Richard Jenkins stars as a quiet, withdrawn college professor that discovers illegal immigrants are living in an apartment he keeps in New York. Through music he bonds with the immigrants. This is an important film for putting a face on the immigration issue, but it is also one of the most human stories of 2008. Writer/director Thomas McCarthy doesn’t offer easier answers; rather he presents a film filled with warmth, compassion and a sense of joy.

The most strikingly original animated film since, well, Pixar’s last release, “WALL-E” doesn’t pander to children and instead respects their intelligence. Much of the first half of the film is essentially a silent film. In the future, Earth has been left trashed by humanity which now resides in a giant spaceship. The titular robot is left to clean up the mess. The film morphs into a rather sweet robot love story that is more involving than some human love stores.

“The Wrestler”
Given his falling out with Hollywood, it isn’t surprising that Mickey Rourke would be drawn to the story of a former professional wrestler who is just barely living above the bottom of the barrel. What is shocking is how dramatically involving the film is given the wrestling subject matter. You don’t need to be a fan to appreciate this film. This is an emotionally raw film powered by Rourke’s born-to-play performance.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

On the scene

T.J. Herlihy lives a double life as police officer and actor

The phrase "don’'t quit your day job" gets tossed around a lot when an amateur tries an artistic endeavor. But if T.J. Herlihy didn't love his day job so, he could probably quit and become an actor.

Herlihy has performed in three community theater productions. By "day," he is a police officer for Conway (New Hampshire) Police Department.

"I think that it's great he does both,”" said Chris Wong, a teacher at Kennett High School, who worked with Herlihy while he was the school resources officer. "“It makes him and the policemen more approachable, because it makes them more human.”"

Wong knew Herlihy before he entered into both police work and acting and believes that both are a perfect fit for him.

"I think that being a police officer and an actor have been natural extensions for him,"” said Wong. “"He has always been charismatic, good natured, and fair.”"

Herlihy is supported in his acting pursuits by the police department, which, according to Lt. Chris Perley, encourages its officers to participate in recreational pursuits and activities that benefit the community.

"It would appear that he has been able to combine a passion for the theater with something that will also be enjoyed by many, many community members and we encourage that because police work can be a stressful and dangerous line of work and we want officers to be well-rounded in all aspects of their life,”" said Perley.

Herlihy got into police work because it has always been part of his nature to want to help others, and becoming a police officer seemed the natural progression of that impulse.

"At the time I applied I was in a place where I wasn’'t going anywhere, so I saw the ad in the paper and thought, '‘Huh,'’”" said Herlihy. "“I had thought about becoming a police officer, people around me had talked about me becoming one, and I just went for it. I thought it would be interesting, definitely another way to help people."

At first glance, acting and police work may seem like an odd combination, but a closer look reveals parallels.

"Presence might be a good portion of it because when you arrive on the scene you need to present a confident, knowledgeable, you know what you'’re doing [attitude],”" said Herlihy. "“Sometimes you really have to take control of the scene. That’s the only way to make sure the scene is safe. So having the presence, busting out the confidence on stage comes from the police work.”"

Herlihy also possesses an extroverted personality that always him to be able to transfer what he learned on the scene into a scene on stage.

“"He is a goofy guy,”" said Rae McCarey, who has acted with Herlihy twice. "“I don'’t know if I a lot of people know that because his job means a lot to him. He takes it very seriously and you only get this glimpse through the rabbit hole, so to speak, of T.J. being funny.”"

Herlihy will freely admit to his sillier side.

"Throughout my life I’'ve always joked around, impersonated whoever was around me, just for fun,”" said Herlihy. “"It was somewhat easy for me to pretend to be someone else, but there are a lot of things you have to learn in theater, how to project your voice and be bigger and louder than life so that everyone can hear you, you know that’s different because you feel awkward."

Previous to his first show, Herlihy had no acting or singing experience outside of the shower or the car, but it had been something he wanted to try. Fittingly enough, his path to acting also started with an ad in a newspaper.

"It was something I always wanted to do, but I just never had the courage to do it,”" said Herlihy. "“One day I was in my office at Kennett and my wife came in and flipping through the pages she shows me an audition for '‘L'i’l Abner"’ and she said ‘I think you should go."’”

Herlihy did go to the audition and to his surprise got one of the lead roles in Arts in Motions’ production of "L'i’l Abner.”"

"I wound up singing a Christmas song because I don’t have that many songs in my head that I can bust out,"” said Herlihy. "“So I sang a Christmas song, they thanked me, had me read a couple lines and I left. I got a call couple days later at the school. Gino Funicella was the director and he said ‘We’d like to offer you one of the leads, Earthquake McGoon’ and I was like, ‘'Oh, OK’' and that’'s how it started.”

That was last May and that could'’ve been the end of the story. But in December, he graced the stage again as the love interest in the Resort Players’ “"Carol’'s Christmas,"” a gender reversed reworking of "“A Christmas Carol."” He followed that up with his first lead role in a musical in M&D Productions'’ “"Company,"” which finished its run in January.

Herlihy didn'’t go to the walk-in auditions for “Company” because he heard it was a difficult show to sing and he didn’'t think he had a chance. The day before rehearsals, director Ken Martin was still looking for his lead and on a tip called up Herlihy.

"He did a great audition for the part,"” said Mark DeLancey, tech director on “"Company.”" "“It was certainly fun to watch him grow and progress into the role. You could see by closing night how comfortable he really was with adding his own little unique things into the role. It was fun to watch him have a good time."”

As an untrained singer, Herlihy, even with natural abilities, had a lot or work to put in for “"Company"” — and he was up to the challenge.

"He has a very beautiful, natural voice," said Mary Bastoni-Rebmann, who as the music director for “Company” did voice training with several of the actors. "“With T.J. he had his voice in his throat so I worked with him to get his voice forward and it just made all the difference in the world. As a matter of fact Ken was in the room when that happened and it was like day and night.”"

Bastoni-Rebmann was pleased with Herlihy as an actor and a singer and said he was a great success and a pleasure to work with.

"T.J. was a great actor to work with because he came in with a willingness to do the work and a willingness to grow, which isn’t always the case,”" said Bastoni-Rebmann. “"A lot of times you have blocks with actors, but he was terrific.”"

In addition to being a full-time police officer and part-time actor, Herlihy is a husband and a father — something that McCarey, who acted with Herlihy in “"Carol'’s Christmas"” and "“Company,"” can'’t quite wrap her mind around.

"He is a full-time police officer, he was the go-to guy at Kennett, and he has children, he'’s a husband, that’s full-time, right? And he did the acting and it was like ‘How do you this? How exactly are you doing all of this,"’” said McCarey, an admitted big fan of Herlihy.

McCarey, who studied acting, was surprised and excited to encountered Herlihy’s natural talents.

“"It was exciting to meet somebody new that hasn’'t acted that is up here and low and behold can hold his own and then some,"” said McCarey. “"There were moments where the hair stood up like, 'Wow he sounds really, really beautiful.' If he had more time and right brain shutdown, left brain allowed to flow through, can you imagine?”"

Not only does Herlihy juggle his career, acting and personal life, he manages to do it all in good cheer.

"T.J's ebullient personality was a fresh breath of air at Kennett High School,"” said Mark Ross, a teacher at Kennett. “"It is this same ebullience and charisma that would translate beautifully to the stage."”

McCarey agrees that his sweet, good-natured approach to life makes it hard for anyone to have a complaint about him.

"Nobody has anything bad to say about T.J. ever,”" said McCarey. "“No one has ever had anything negative to say about T.J., and he never says anything negative about anyone.”"

Unfortunately, Herlihy will have to take a hiatus from acting for a while. For the last three school years, he was the school resource officer at Kennett, a shift that gave him nights and weekends off, but he has recently been reassigned.

"I am going to be rotating to 3 to 11, so that is a nine-week rotation for everyone,"” said Herlihy. “"I don’t see that I’ll be able to do anything during that shift. The only two days off I’ll be with my kids, so that’ll be tough. But once I rotate to midnights then I could have my evenings free and then go to work that night. I might be able to do something then.”"

But rest assured, Herlihy will be back because he has “definitely developed a passion for it." But for now he’s just pleased with the opportunities he has had, especially "“Company.”"

I am very happy that Ken and Mary let me do it,” said Herlihy. “I am very thankful that they thought that I was worthy of it and I appreciate what they did. Mary was very helpful with voice lessons and she is an amazing performer herself, so I’m just a pretty thankful, happy guy.”

Friday, February 06, 2009

'Millionaire' is anything but a 'dog'

“Slumdog Millionaire” is up for 10 Academy Awards and has already won a slew of high profile awards, including best movie of 2008 from the National Broad of Review and the Golden Globes.

Is the film worthy of all the accolades? It is hard to say, but if it isn’t the best film of the year, it is worthy of the attention simply because it will get people to see a very good film that they might not see otherwise.

The film tells the story of how a contestant was able to win India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Jamal (Dev Patel) is suspected of cheating because he grew up on streets of Mumbai and somehow managed to get further on the show than doctors and lawyers.

Jamal is interrogated in by Mumbai authorities, which gives the film its structure. As Jamal and the police inspector (Irrfan Khan) go through each question from the show, Jamal tells how he knew the answers through life experiences, which the audience is shown in flashbacks.

It is an interesting premise, and the rags-to-riches premise is universally appealing. There is also a love story. The real reason Jamal went on the show was to find Latika (Freida Pinto), a girl he has loved since childhood but who life keeps tearing away from him.

The film is directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later”) and written by Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty,” "Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day”) from a novel by Vikas Swarup. Both the director and writer are English, but this is still very much an Indian production.

“Slumdog” doesn’t feel like foreigners coming in to tell a story about a country they don’t understand. Boyle was surrounded by a largely Indian crew and had an Indian co-director, Loveleen Tandan, who also helped with the script’s Hindi dialogue. This is crucial to the film’s feeling of authenticity.

Boyle is an extraordinary visual stylist who has always been able to find beauty in the mundane. There are shots that are brief, like a dog lying in the street during a chase through the slums of Mumbai, which add detail and richness to the film. Boyle is also a master of pacing and editing, and he keeps his film moving along like an action film yet keeps a focus on the humanity of his story.

The audience is told Jamal wins the game at the beginning of the film, but Boyle is such an assured filmmaker that the film’s final scenes of the show are still engrossing. The final question is absolutely perfect.

Visually and in tone, the film’s flashbacks recall the brilliant “City of God” that portrayed the escalating violence in a neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. This is a softer representation of that sort of life, although there are some scenes that are hard to watch. Jamal’s parentless childhood with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) includes being taken in by a Fagan-esque thug, run-ins with gangsters and scamming tourists at the Taj Mahal.

The film has a nice sense of humor about it. The lengths in which young Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) goes to get an autograph from his favorite actor will make you cringe and laugh at the same time. The story Jamal concocts about why the Taj Mahal was built is also quite amusing.

The acting in the film is excellent. Jamal, Salim and Latika are all portrayed by three different actors at different stages of their lives and everyone delivers solid work.

Patel as the adult Jamal is a dynamic, likable lead and it is easy to root for him. Hopefully this is the beginning of big career for him. Patel’s back-and-forth scenes with Khan’s inspector are particularly good. Khan slowly drops his guard when he gets pulled into Jamel’s story.

This is a genuinely uplifting, feel-good movie largely because it earns its happy ending. The film goes to dark places and its characters rise above it, and it is hard not to smile when Jamal and Latika finally get to be together.