By Alan Cho
They’ve all started to look the same, haven’t they? Romantic comedies clawing their way through sub-fecal jokes and charmless performances, draped in sweater vests and teetering on designer shoes in the flickering light. Lately, filmmakers seem unable to move past the basic formula: X meets Y, X falls for Y, complications and misunderstandings break the two up, until they reconcile so X and Y live happily together. But along comes first time director/writer Ian Iqbal Rashid to shake the formula from its indolence and enliven the genre with a brand new perspective with his first feature, Touch of Pink. As the movie focuses on a gay Muslim male, the formula should implode with inversions of all the cliches. Instead, Rashid can’t pull his film above most of the fluff littering the annals of cinema’s romantic comedy history.
Touch of Pink, a self-delcared gay film, is conventional to a fault. In this case, X is Alim, played by an incredibely stiff Jimi Mistry (The Guru) and Y is his boyfriend Giles (Kristen Holden-Reid). Though sometimes a bit unsteady and awkward, the two live comfortably with their relationship in London. Kyle Maclachlan is Alim’s imaginary friend, Cary Grant, who mentors and guides Alim through life’s trials and tribulations. Enter complication in the form of Alim’s mother, played by Canadian actress Suleka Mathew, who drags her son to a family wedding in Toronto. Though she knows her son is a non-practising Muslim, she is unaware of his sexuality. The phantom Cary Grant provides catty remarks as characters clash and then reveal their true feelings. All this ends, as we knew it would, with Alim and Giles kissing at a wedding.
Side-stepping the usual cliches is a relief, such as the painfully unfunny mistaken identity setups found frequently in this genre. There’s a moment where Alim, needing to throw his mother off his gay trail, latches onto Giles’ sister and announces her as his fiance. This painful bit should stretch thinly across the creaky plot, but director Rashid quickly abandons the idea and briskly moves along.
As Rashid takes his characters through the motions of the plot to its inevitable conclusion, startling familiarity sets in, beyond the basic romantic comedy plot structure. Touch of Pink recalls moments and textures from better movies. There are homages to films in the Cary Grant canon, but not as many as you’d think. Mostly, the film comes uncomfortably close to poorly warming over material in movies such as Monsoon Wedding and Kissing Jessica Stein. Touch of Pink is unable to shake the trappings of its genre to go beyond a frothy concoction too eager to please its audience.