Thursday, August 17, 2023

Have a Nice Life


Have a Nice Life, the 2021 feature by the up-and-coming filmmaker Prashanth Kamalakanthan, is one of those films you find programmed in the sidebar of a regional festival, but which one will go back to a few years from its premiere for the sake of the completist viewing of an intriguing new director's œuvre. 

Have a Nice Life combines the template of the indie road-trip, the buddies-on-the-run movie, and the portrayal of a culture clash: Jyothi (Jagathi Kamalakanthan, the filmmaker's real-life mother, in an amateur but natural performance) and Sophie (Lucy Kaminsky, a natural performer whose talents are anything but amateur, and who bears a passing resemblance to Eleanore Pienta) criss-cross after the latter is ejected from her grandfather's guest-house, and the former becomes estranged from her husband while he takes up with another woman in Montreal. Somewhere in the middle (in the middle of North Carolina), Jyothi and Sophie set out to catch up with Jyothi's husband — and along the way a rifle murder occurs when a 19th-century firearm goes off while pointed at a clerk's chest. Jyothi, a fledgling American citizen, thus becomes wrapped up in Sophie's purple/green/neon manic fantasy-land — did this murder even occur? The irony of the title Have a Nice Life springs from the South Asian tradition of frequently arranged unhappy marriages, and the Hindu belief in the transmigration of souls — Jyothi and Sophie, their first-names chiming, might even bring to mind the Vice Versa scenario. 'Far' from being a journey from NC to Quebec, the pair instead circle around the state in a continuous whirlpool of paranoia. Which brings to mind three beautiful moments, for Kamalakanthan does not relegate himself only to script and color-correction: (1) Jyothi swishing her foot distractedly in a rain puddle while on the phone with her mother;  (2) Jyothi's "welcome" mat sitting on the inside of her apartment's threshold. 

(BONUS) Sophie in a pawn shop disguised in a blonde wig, unloading a copy of the early Masters of Cinema Series UK DVD edition of Toshio Matsumoto's 1969 cult drag classic Funeral Parade of Roses (released before I came on board to work on production of the series), with the store-clerk remarking: "I met him at the airport once — Matsumoto. Same plane. They called him up to security — they wanded him!" 

Identity static, stark, and infinite. "We gotta stay on the small roads now..." You never have to stay on the small roads: but when you finally hit them, you know still broader pathways await.


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