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‘Growing Up Smith’ is a funny trip down memory lane

Growing Up Smith

* * * *  (out of five)

Director: Frank Lotito

Cast: Jason Lee, Anjul Nigam, Roni Akurati

Rated: PG-13 (strong language, brief drug use)

Running time: 102 min.

Posted 10:48am on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017

At a time when bringing up issues of immigration and race can be the equivalent of dropping a match into a fuel tank, the warmly sweet coming-of-age story Growing Up Smith turns back the clock to a simpler time. Well, it wasn’t really simpler but, through the gauzy haze of nostalgia and memory of this gently funny film, it sure seems that way.

The year is 1979 and the Bhatnagars are the first Indian family in a standard, middle-class neighborhood in Somewhere, USA. Immigrant Hindu parents Bhaaskar (Anjul Nigam, Grey’s Anatomy) and Nalini (Poorna Jagannathan, The Night Of) are trying their best to maintain the old world. Yet their kids, boy-crazy teenage daughter Asha (Shoba Narayan) and young Smith (Roni Akurati), given an unimpeachably American name, are trying hard to fit into the new.

Smith has a total crush on the girl across the street, Amy (Brighton Sharbino), whose cash-strapped, working-class parents, Butch (Jason Lee) and Nancy (Hilarie Burton), are trying their best to understand these strange brown people who don’t eat meat. On the other hand, Smith’s parents don’t understand why forcing him to wear a Halloween costume of the Hindu god Ganesh, instead of Darth Vader, is not going to help his cool factor.

This first feature from director Frank Lotito is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but it is charmingly amusing and surprisingly timely. In fact, the film feels like an extended episode of The Wonder Years, if that ’60s-set series had served a little chicken tikka masala and cross-cultural understanding with its white bread and pop hits.

Exclusive: Beginning Friday at AMC Stonebriar, Frisco; Feb. 1 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Feb. 2 at Frisco City Hall as special DFW South Asian Film Festival events; opens Feb. 10 at AMC Grapevine Mills.

Cary Darling: 817-390-7571, @carydar

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