Full disclosure: I am a filmmaker myself, I watch films not only as entertainment, but always tend to evaluate and study each and every element that goes into making a hopefully successful film. Watching this film wasn't only entertaining, it was a monumental achievement.
Growing up Smith is an engaging story about a boy who is an Indian immigrant growing up before our eyes, falling in love with his first crush, dealing with bullies and an ever-changing family dynamic... No this isn't the story of January 2017, it is actually set in 1979. However timely this film may be, it goes beyond the preferential force feeding you may come to expect from films that are socially or politically charged in today's climate... It hits you where it hurts most, your heart. You see, this film connected with me on numerous levels, not because I am Indian or an immigrant, I am neither. I am an American born in Virginia. It hit me hard because it tapped into the innocence we are all born with as children. That innocence that knows no skin tone, no material objects, no predisposition to one's background, only the natural, visceral feelings we have as kids.
At the center of this story is Smith, played effortlessly by newcomer Roni Akurati, a young boy who deeply yearns to be an American. He wants to eat apple pie, listen to the Bee Gees and eat KFC. He also falls in love with his first crush, the figurative and literal girl next door, a young blonde, blue eyed girl, the enchanting and lovable Amy, played by Brighton Sharbino. As the two become friends, his desire to be American grows as he befriends her father Butch Brunner, played by Jason Lee. On the surface, I don't have to tell you much about Butch Brunner you can't already surmise from his name. Glad they stopped short of naming him Biff a la Back to the Future. What is different about Butch is that despite his exterior, he too is an endearing figure that we can all relate to. He is the hard working, beer drinking, meat loving, full bearded white guy from Oklahoma who like many Americans struggles to make ends meat, raise a family and find happiness in this world. The two form a bond, a friendship that transcends their age, their race or their position in life.
There are many layers and subplots to this film which uncommonly do not detract from the main story-line. There is the overly-strict Indian father constantly battling the urge to have his family assimilate, but not lose their own identity and culture. His wife who tries to hold the family together. Butch's wife who has the impossible job of sticking by her husband and supporting his wishes and dreams like keeping his motorcycle, however balancing the looming monthly elephant in the room called mortgage, bills, life.
This was as honest, entertaining, heartwarming and evocative a film as I have seen. That isn't hyperbole, it is simply the humble feelings of a filmmaker who recognizes "okay, the bar's been set". The subtlety, the sincerity from scene to scene and character to character made this not only an enjoyable film, but one I truly respected and will hold close.
In closing, I must say that maybe equally as impressive as the film itself, is the fact that this is an Indie. This film was made for 2 million dollars which on its own is an outstanding achievement. The film being set in 1979, having star quality talent both on screen and off. I don't recall an Indie this well-crafted. Masterfully directed by Frank Lotito, beautifully shot by Thomas Scott Stanton, and what a terrific script by Paul Quinn, Gregory Scott Houghton and one of the film's stars Anjul Nigam. I could go on and on, the production design, music, all of the performances, all of these visual components contributed to make a timeless film that if you told me was a major Studio release-50 million dollar film, I wouldn't think twice. It is that complete.
Not sure if this film is considered in this past year's flock of films (It is listed 2015, but releasing 2017) but if it is, it is certainly in my top 10 of best films of the year. Hat's off to all involved, you made a tremendous film.