Reel Life: Flick Pix
Funny, frantic, raunchy-talking, frustrated ensemble risks all to learn women know best
By Nora Lee Mandel
Directed by Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Produced by Tyler Durden and Kino Fist
Written by Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K. Sekar, Mysskin, and Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Released by PrimeMedia
India. 2 hrs 56 mins. Not Rated in U.S.
In Tamil with English subtitles
With: Vijay Sethupathy, Fahadh Fassil, Samantha Akkineni, Mysskin, Ramya Krishnan Ashwanth Ashokkumar, Bagavathi Perumal, Gayathrie, Naveen, Noble K. James and Vijay Ram
Release Date: March 29, 2019
Colorfully filmed in Chennai, where the Kodambakkam neighborhood of the southeastern coastal city of India is the center of Tamil cinema’s “Kollywood”, Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s sophomore feature Super Express has a funny, frantic, raunchy-talking, sexually frustrated ensemble that could have run around under Judd Apatow’s production arm. Like in Apatow’s L.A. world, the mature, unusually feisty women successfully navigate the serious world of the larger society to rescue the boy/men from really scary crises.
Three writers Nalan Kumarasamy, Neelan K. Sekar, and Mysskin (many in the cast and crew go by single names) separately created three primary stories, which the director supplemented and loosely tied together, poking fun at melodramatically connected films like Crash. The comedy plays on the witty, self-aggrandizing, profane talk, with double entendres even in the English subtitles that probably don’t communicate all the local references, bolstered by slapstick, pratfalls, and embarrassment. (There may be errors in my matching characters and portrayers below due to the little information available.)
The sounds of seduction and sex open up the first set, as beautiful new, bored wife Vaembu (Samantha) hooks up with her stressed-out former college boyfriend. When her actor-wannabe husband Mugilan (Fahadh Faasil) comes home, their continuing misadventures recall Ted Kotcheff’s lo-comedy fave Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), as befits a film lovingly filled with visual, dialogue, and audio tributes to Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Their on-screen chemistry shines with the best of saucy rom-coms.
A quartet of teenage boys (notably Naveen as Soori the smart aleck and Noble K. James as Mutta Puffs the chubby one) is on a quest for classic porn to watch on a large-screen TV. Soori’s fantasies collide with his reality to send him angrily running home to confront his very practical mother Leela (Ramya Krishnan). His home life hasn’t been too stable since a tsunami turned his father Arputham into Dhanasekaran the Prophet (writer Mysskin) with his own loyal acolyte Minnal to implement his pronouncements. With the teen friends left to replace the TV Soori damaged, they awkwardly fail at robbery before reluctantly agreeing to conduct shady errands for the local moneylender Gaaji Balaji (Vijay Ram), whose thugs conscientiously pose as movie gangsters.
Sweet seven-year-old Raasukutty (the adorable Ashwanth Ashok Kumar) and his harried, traditional mother Jyothi (Gayathrie) await the return of his long prodigal parent, so they can quiet the nasty comments of schoolyard bullies and querulous grandmothers. When their former Manickam returns anew as Shilpa, Vijay Sethupathi becomes the heart of the film. With almost no comic busyness and mostly dramatic scenes, this parent has to reconcile with an accepting family, face corrupt police (Bagavathi Perumal as the disturbingly leering Inspector Berlin), and confess to the cruelties of those lonely missing years.
Just as each risks being s-l-o-w-l-y sacrificed to authority, in too drawn out scenes within the noir cinematography of Nirav Shah and P.S. Vinod and a sound design that emphasizes the urban ambiance, comic dei ex machina provide amusing relief. Or in the case of the healthy boys, a satirical soft core porn movie-within-a-movie grants them The Secret of Life.
Like in Apatow movies, within madcap and even life-threatening situations, each character learns to work on their primary relationship, especially thanks to a forgiving female. Kumararaja calls this “a mainstream film”, and Super Express is certainly as entertaining as any in Apatow’s mainstream oeuvre.
Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews
Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.
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