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Touch of Pink

(2004) ** 1/2 Pg-13
91 min. Sony Pictures Classics. Director: Ian Rashid. Cast: Jimi Mistry, Kyle MacLachlan, Kristen Holden-Ried, Suleka Mathew, Brian George.

What do you get if you cross Play It Again, Sam with The Birdcage? You might get Touch of Pink, Ian Iqbal Rashid's sweet and gentle farce about the trouble with maintaining illusions. Unfortunately, there's nothing gentle about a good farce; Touch of Pink could use a bit more "get up and go" and a lot less moping. Nevertheless, the modest returns of this low-budget investment threaten to warm the heart and break a smile or two.

This "in and out" closet comedy pairs a Canadian-born South-Asian gay man named Alim (Jimi Mistry) with "The Spirit of Cary Grant" (Kyle MacLachlan). To his imaginary friend, Alim spills his many troubles: hiding his homosexuality from his proper mother Nuru (Suleka Mathew), keeping his free-wheeling boyfriend Giles (Kristen Holden-Ried) happy, and trouble-shooting the impending nuptials of the male cousin with whom Alim used to "fool around." The machinations of the plot find Alim flying back to London for the wedding and to sort out his relationship with his mother, the source of his angst and his Tinseltown dreams. Themes of identity (as gay man, South Asian, Canadian, and Londoner) and blissful self-delusion dominate, with one character remarking of the sham wedding "It looks beautiful, but the flowers will brown and ice sculptures will melt, and then what?"

Rashid based his screenplay on his own movie dreams, shared with his own mother, and the concept of exploring the destructive power of movie mythology is a good one. Unfortunately, the broad, sprightly comedy of Alim's friendship with the ghostly Grant (shades of Topper) is jarringly unreal against the weighty emotional realism of personal identity and relationship issues; the maudlin hand-wringing arrests what should be a farcical pace. Admittedly, this contrast is largely Rashid's point, and the director skillfully employs well-lit photography (and, at one point, a CinemaScope frame) to evoke Old Hollywood stylings for Grant's appearances.

Reid does charming work as Giles, a good guy waiting, somewhat improbably, for Alim to get his act together. Mathew aptly evokes Nuru's aching hopes, and the sad-eyed Mistry (The Guru) forms good chemistry with his multiple foils. The most valuable players, though, are MacLachlan and Grant, the great star portrayed in a medley of his famous films as remembered by Alim: The Philadelphia Story, An Affair to Remember, and in a few moments of intentionally discomfiting hilarity, Gunga Din, in which Grant played a pith-helmeted British soldier in colonial India.

Though Grant was just about as inimitable as they come, MacLachlan (Sex in the City) bravely gives it the old college try, and damn if he doesn't make it work with a nuanced impression that subtly compliments Mistry's Alim. In showing the inability of fantasy to cope with reality, Rashid requires MacLachlan's "Grant" to be more thoroughly befuddled than the genuine article. The exaggerated results puff Grant up into caricature, but one that works in the context of Alim's mind and yields genuinely amusing results in MacLachlan's coy take. This Grant isn't quite Alim's better-half, though he's part (room)mate, part avuncular father figure, and part guardian angel. When he climactically tells Alim, "I envy you. Live every moment. Live it for me," MacLachlan deftly personifies a dream image which, intriguingly, begs for empathy.

[For Groucho's interview with Kyle MacLachlan, click here.]

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