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Colorful but lightweight Romantic Comedy
on March 14, 2009
The Guru is one those pictures which is more interesting watching the film with the commentary on DVD than watching the film without it. Actually there are two sets of commentaries on the DVD: one with the director, Daisy von Scherler Mayer and screenwriter, Tracey Jackson together and another with the film's star, Jimi Mistry. There are all kinds of facts about the making of the picture that are quite fascinating (for example, the director decided to leave in a scene of a real-life paparazzi taking a picture of Heather Graham as the film was being shot!).
On the plus side, The Guru has a strong cast which includes the extremely funny and talented Michael McKean (I loved him in 'Coneheads'), Christine Baranski (she was excellent in the recent Broadway production of 'Boeing, Boeing') and the very versatile Marisa Tomei who steals the show here as a spoiled, neurotic daughter in a upper-crust New York family who pursues eastern spiritualism without giving up her western decadence and sense of entitlement.
Despite the potential, The Guru ends up as lightweight fare, the kind of entertainment you will soon forget about after a first viewing. While the plotting is more than acceptable, the problem is that the story simply isn't funny. This is mainly due to a lack of inspiration on the part of screenwriter Jackson. She readily admits that she intentionally softened up some of the more unsavory aspects of her story--particularly in her treatment of the porn industry, in order to lighten the overall mood. By doing so, she dumbs down her characters into sentimental cream puffs so that the humor no longer has an edge. No one clear-cut antagonist emerges for Ramu Gupta (The Guru) to oppose. Instead, the focus is more on his internal arc in which he battles the seduction of crass materialism.
Even if we are willing to accept the screenwriter's distorted but 'affectionate send-ups', the Guru has a more serious problem. If you think about it, The Guru is a story that could actually happen. How many times have we heard stories about various Svengali-like figures seducing masses of gullible people? Even though the Guru is supposed to be an exaggerated tale of seduction, the method by which the seduction is executed must be somewhat credible. When the Swami passes out at the catered party and Ramu has to pretend that he is now the all-knowing Guru, he first breaks into a dance which immediately seems to mesmerize the group of pretentious New York intellectuals who have been waiting for their next spiritual mentor to open up their chakras and show them 'the light'. It's a farcical moment, not very clever, but something we're willing to accept in order to see what comes next.
As it turns out, Gupta relies on his muse, Sharrona (Heather Graham), the porn star masquerading as a substitute teacher, for a string of aphorisms that somehow turns everybody into cult-like followers. The aphorisms aren't clever at all. Sharrona coughs up such profundities as "Fear is cold, it freezes up"; when we come, we let go of our fears"; "my pussy is the door to my soul". The point is that the pretentious intellectuals are so stupid that they fall for these inane pontifications. It's obvious stuff and in screenwriter Jackson's dumbed-down world, the Guru has it TOO easy seducing these buffoons. Jackson's satire has no bite since she has created no credible targets to satirize. The Guru's victims needed to be more fleshed out, real people and the Guru needed a much more clever, original and believable plan rather than merely spouting a few trite aphorisms that sway everybody to him.
Toward the end of the film, the Guru jokes have worn out their welcome (they weren't funny at the beginning of the film too!). The Guru devolves into standard romantic comedy fare with Sharonna suddenly realizing that she was meant for Ramu all along. The Guru cannot be accused of not being good-natured however. In a plea for tolerance, Sharrona's fiancé realizes that he too (all along) has been in love and at the movie's end he's fallen for his gay firefighter boyfriend.
The Guru was filmed on location in New York City as well as some of the early scenes on location in India. It's a colorful film, well-acted including some lively dance numbers. Nonetheless, The Guru is so lightweight that it lacks the main ingredient for comedy: laughs!!!