The much-loved 2003 English novel Brick Lane, about a Bangladeshi woman who travels to London to take part in an arranged marriage to an older man, has now been realized as a depressing, static drama that will have heads lolling backwards and eyes drooping wherever it plays. From all the protests that have been mounted over this project -- some natives of the predominantly Muslim Brick Lane neighborhood in London found the book to be culturally insulting and wanted nothing to do with the adaption -- most observers expected the resulting film to be at the very least divisive and electric, pulling no punches in its frank exploration of racial and cultural tensions in modern London. Instead, what we've been given is a quasi-literal staging of the book's many family drama scuffles, unevenly-paced and amateurishly directed by helmer Sarah Gavron. There are some nice exchanges here and there, but not nearly enough to make up for the endless scenes of melodramatic bickering; the passions burn on a low-flame but never come close to catching fire.
Starring is Bollywood actress Tannishtha Chatterjee as Nazneen, a poor Bangladeshi girl whose world and options are significantly narrowed when her mother unexpectedly dies. Without the luxury of being able to choose her own way forward in life, Nazneen is immediately packed off to Brick Lane, where a rotund, boisterous man named Chanu, played by Satish Kaushik, is working menial jobs but deluding himself into thinking that he's some kind of enterprising entrepreneur. When he's laid off, it's an opportunity for upward mobility in the workforce. When he gets a third-rate job, it's anything but. He's a deluded optimist, nourishing a blind spot that will protect him from seeing his own failures. As played by Kaushik, Chanu is by far the most compelling character in the film, but there's very little room for the character to move in the story, and once we've seen his schtick in the first thirty minutes or so, we've pretty much seen it all. Nazneen and Chanu are so mismatched as a couple that they don't even provide for the viewer any interesting clashes.