FUNNY BOY – A Review by Cynthia Flores
The new film Funny Boy is based on the acclaimed Canadian novel by Shyam Selvadurai. I hate to admit that I really didn’t know a lot about the civil war between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils in Sri Lanka that lasted 26 years. You won’t be getting a solemn history lesson in Funny Boy; instead, it’s more like a CliffsNotes version of this conflict. Director Deepa Mehta uses the touching coming of age story of Arjie, who is Tamil and gay, to highlight the atrocities that happened. Mehta uses her unique storytelling talents to shine a spotlight on what it is to be the ‘Other.’
Funny Boy is a moving look at Arjie’s life as a child in the 70’s and a teenager in the 80’s. As a rich Tamil, he and his family think they can stay above the revolutionary Tamil Tigers’ fray. The Tigers fight for a separate state for their people in Sri Lanka. We first meet Arjie (Arush Nand) when he is a child who loves to dress up like a bride and play with his sister and cousins. Having overheard the whispers between his parents and other relatives, he is broken-hearted and shamed by being treated as a “Bad” thing and innocently confused by being referred to as “Funny”. His main ally is his free-spirited Aunt Radha (Agam Darshi). She knows what Arjie is before he does and helps him find ways to be himself and hide in plain sight. She understands forbidden love because she falls for Anil (Ruvin De Silva), a Sinhalese man. Her Tamil family would disown her if she chose to marry him.
Later we see Arjie (Brandon Ingram) as a senior in high school. He’s managed to stay a good and faithful son to his family until he meets and falls in love with a boy named Shehan (Rehan Mudannayake), who is Sinhalese. Shehan teaches Arjie that what they are and who they choose to love is not an evil thing, even if it is against the law in their country. One of my favorite scenes is watching them dance romantically to Every Move You Make by the Police as the city erupts into violence around them. Arjie loses his innocence as the war has finally come to his family’s door. Changing everything they knew and loved.
When asked what drew her to this story of a young gay boy, seventy-year-old Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta is quoted as saying the following. “For me, FUNNY BOY is a quintessentially Canadian story and could have only been written by a Sri Lankan who had emigrated to Canada. The objectivity that Canada provides, through which we can look at our respective homelands, is I think this country’s greatest gift. It’s what I hope will give us a global understanding of the nature of the ‘Other.'”
I am a big fan of Deepa Mehta’s work. Her films usually deeply resonate emotionally with me and look beautiful. On the emotional front, Funny Boy can be a bit predictable at times but still has moments that touched my heart. Visually, I enjoyed the rich cinematography of Douglas Koch. The film was actually shot in Sri Lanka and splendidly shows off its bleached beaches and turquoise ocean. It also captures the violence that simmered under the surface of the manicured lawns of the sun-drenched mansions. Funny Boy is not a masterpiece but fits well within her canon of work. It does a good job showing the lack of compassion and humanity and fear of people who are different from the perceived norm.
I give Funny Boy a 4-star rating. It’s Canada’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film.
Directed by: Deepa Mehta
Written by: Deepa Mehta, Shyam Selvadurai
Selig Rating: 4 Stars
Running Time: 108 min
Drama / Foreign (English, Tamil)
Release: December 10th on Netflix
Starring: Agam Darshi, Nimmi Harasgama, Ali Kazmi, Arush Nand
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.