Film Reviews

Busy Bees Collapse; Aasif Mandvi Does Kitchen Duty.

‘The Colony’ and ’Today’s Special’ promise much, but the proof of the pudding is….

By Eric Scigliano November 19, 2010

Bees do it, with a lot of help from their friends, in The Colony.

Trouble onscreen at both ends of the food-making chain. The Colony, opening tonight at the Northwest Film Forum, certainly buzzes around some rich material: the ruthless hyper-socialist efficiency of bee society. The anachronistic but essential trade of beekeeping, on which a third of crops depend. The passionate oddballs who practice it. The mysterious “colony collapse disorder” that’s ravaging the hives and industry. Are parasites, pesticides, artificial inbreeding, or all the above to blame?

The Colony’s makers explain none of this, letting beekeepers and a pesticide apologist speak—by turns lyrically, trenchantly, and interminably—for themselves. The story mostly gets told, though the science gets short shrift; you wouldn’t know from here, but varroa mites and nosema fungus are remarkable ghastly killers. (Here’s news on local bee breeders battling them.)

The Seppi brothers ponder their own collapsing colony.

Half the film follows one godfearing, beekeeping family. Ma and Pa Seppi heard a call to “have as many children as the Lord will give us” and give them an apiary to work in. Now they’re struggling; the economy’s collapsed and almond growers won’t pay as much for pollination. But this has nothing to do with colony collapse, and merely diverts from the theme. The Irish filmmakers—evidently enthralled with American heartland weirdness—seem to see the fecund. hardworking Seppis as human counterparts to the struggling bees. But there’s a key difference: Bees, we learn early on, limit their population to match available resources. The species the Seppis actually represent hasn’t learned that. Which might have something to do with the bees’ (and most other critters’) plight.

The Colony shows at the Northwest Film Forum Nov 19-24 at 7 and 9pm, plus 5pm on weekends.

If anyone ever assembles a best foodie film festival, it’ll read like a modified G-7 roster. You’ve got your French (food, that is, in the Danish Babette’s Feast, doubly apt since a recent chef’s poll found that world’s best restaurant is in Copenhagen), your Italian (Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s Big Night), and your Chinese (Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman). Clearly India is due to break in. And "Today’s Special", opening tonight at the Harvard Exit, is jumping up and down screaming, “Here I am!”

Today’s Special comes with credentials—particularly its star and coauthor, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi, who developed it from his Obie-winning one-man show Sakina’s Restaurant. But someone messed with the recipe. The movie lays on enough feel-good gastro-spiritual and immigrant-family clichés to clog all the arteries in Queens. Mandvi is, of course, the wayward scion of desperately disappointed immigrant parents (he won’t marry a nice Indian girl, he wants to intern in Paris instead of becoming a doctor or keeping his job). Of course his defiance gives dad a heart attack, so of course he takes over the failing family storefront tandoori palace. Of course he finds a philosophy-spouting taxi driver who claims to have cooked for Indira Gandhi and the queen, waxes insufferably about never measuring and cumin being a saucy wench, and turns out to really be the god of masala. Of course he’ll find love, fulfillment, familial reconciliation, ethic self-discovery, etc. over a climactic feast.

I was just guessing on that last point, but I cribbed afterward and yes, Today’s Special follows the playbook. And yes, I committed the cardinal sin of exiting mid-movie, for fear I’d get flattened by a 900-pound joke or even more ponderous fortune cookie saying. But the rest of an Exit-full of previewers seemed to love it. So go ahead, stay till the end and prove me wrong.

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