Tag Archives: Sunita Mani

Sweeping the Clouds Away

The Outside Story

by Hope Madden

Even the title The Outside Story sounds like a children’s book. It’s a vibe writer/director Casimir Nozkowski conjures intentionally. His film is about a man who really never leaves his Brooklyn apartment because, why bother?

That man, Charles, is portrayed with real tenderness and charm by Brian Tyree Henry. An actor of absolutely stunning range, Henry has delivered stellar supporting turns as every type of character in every genre of film over the last few years (Widows, If Beal Street Could Talk, Godzilla v Kong and about a dozen more). The dude works a lot, and he has yet to hit a false note. It’s high time he leads a movie.

The film Nozkowski builds around him feels like Sesame Street for adults. Once Charles finds himself locked out of his apartment, he (and we) gets to learn Who are the people in his neighborhood?

There’s an angry traffic cop (Sunita Mani, Save Yourselves!), brats with water balloons, an incredibly pregnant woman having a stoop sale, a young girl (Olivia Edward) with a problematic mother and so many more.

Nozkowski creates a series of harmless, even sweet mini-adventures for Charles to fall into, each one helping him recognize that maybe he’s closed himself off a bit too much.

It’s not entirely Sesame Street, though. There are plenty of f-bombs, a congenial threesome, and that problematic mom thing. But the darker elements feel downright wholesome in the bright sunshine of Charles’s street.

For the most part, that cheery disposition really aids in the film, and Henry’s wildly compassionate performance is the soft gooey center inside Nozkowski’s brightly colored candy shell.

The Outside Story nearly derails in a late-act scene during which local police mistake Charles for a stocking-footed burglar who’s been breaking into apartments in the neighborhood. Played for good-natured laughs, the scene feels instantly and uncomfortably tone-deaf.

There are other storyline missteps, as well, but The Outside Story is so refreshingly uncynical, so huggable, and often so funny that those misses are easily forgiven. It’s very rare that you see a film this dissimilar to anything else in recent memory.

I may have to think as far back as the last time I watched Sesame Street.


Mother Knows Best

Evil Eye

by George Wolf

Though they live in different countries, Usha (Sarita Choudhury) and her daughter Pallavi (Sunita Mani) talk often, and Mom always seems to have two main things on her mind.

Does Pallavi have a boyfriend yet? And is she remembering to wear her “evil eye” bracelet?

It’s been years since Usha and her husband left the U.S. for their native India, as Pallavi stayed behind with aspirations of writing a novel. Now, as her very American daughter nears thirty, the traditional Usha is getting impatient for a wedding, and trusts in the bracelet to protect Pallavi against any evil spirits preventing her from marriage.

So, when Pallavi begins a serious relationship with the dashing Sandeep (Omar Maskati), she is shocked when Mom objects, and strenuously.

You’d object, too, if you believed your daughter was dating a reincarnation of the abusive boyfriend who tried to kill you three decades before.

Originally a best-selling Audible original, Evil Eye is directors Elan and Rajeev Dassani’s contribution to Amazon’s Welcome to the Blumhouse series. With an adapted script from source author Madhuri Shekar, the film lands as a delightfully cultured mystery. As narrative layers develop, the atmosphere is more supernatural thriller than outright horror show.

Plot turns tend to rely on convenience and in the absence of any sustained tension or outright fear, the real draw becomes the mother/daughter dynamic propelled by the two lead performances.

The veteran Choudhury makes Usha a fascinating conundrum, haunted by her past, fearing for her daughter’s future and forced to question some beliefs she’s long held dear. When the script wavers, Choudhury elevates it, selling every moment with conviction.

Mani, an up-and-comer seen in Glow and the current Save Yourselves!, provides the effective contrast. Pallavi’s modern path is, at first, only mildly affected by her mother’s traditional sensibilities. But when Usha comes west to present her concerns in person, Pallavi must confront her own inner turmoil.

By the time the final twist is revealed, you’ll most likely have already guessed it. But what you’ll remember about Evil Eye has little to do with the mysterious occurrences surrounding this mother and daughter. It’s the humanity flowing between them that sticks.

And I Feel Fine

Save Yourselves!

by Hope Madden

“The world is f*cked and we should stop pretending it’s not.”

True enough.

This piece of insight comes from Su (Sunita Mani), one half of the Brooklyn couple who’s disconnected to enjoy a week in nature, away from the distractions of a life spent too much online. Yes, Su has brought an internet list of ways to improve as a couple, but she handwrote the list into her notebook, so it’s OK.

Meanwhile, longtime (maybe too long?) boyfriend Jack (John Reynolds, Stranger Things) is jonesing to YouTube his tips for humanely trapping a rabbit. But he will not give in!

No, the two are committed to staying off the grid and offline this week, no matter the cost.

Naturally, this is the week the world ends.

Writers/directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, a couple themselves, create a comfortable, hipster vibe. Su and Jack’s relationship is funny in a way that feels less like cynicism and more like compassionately self-referential mockery.

Both performances are charmingly irritating, if that’s a thing. It is here, which could be hard to sell but it’s imperative in this film. The couple is lightly self-obsessed and overly sensitive—an affectionate rip on millennials—but they are sincerely fond of each other, and we are, in turn, fond of them.

Things get sillier once the threat exposes itself. The earth has been overrun by fuzzy little puff balls the couple refers to as pouffes. Yes, the harmless looking—adorable, even—mayhem does feel remarkably similar to those tribbles that caused the Star Trek crew such trouble back in the day.

That’s not the only part of the filmmakers’ feature debut that feels somewhat borrowed, but don’t let them fool you. Just when you think the film itself is selling out, promoting a status quo, nuclear family vibe that would sink the entire production, nope.

The lighthearted cynicism and dystopian dread that marks a generation rears its pessimistic but nonetheless delightful head for an end that’s an unsettling mix of optimism and desperation.