The didactic ABCD is less effective in dramatizing the choices facing second-generation Indian Americans than as a showcase for Sheetal Sheth’s terrific hair. Nina (Sheth) and Raj (Faran Tahir) are the chalk and cheese children of Anju (Madhur Jaffrey), a widow who longs for her native India. Superstitious and status-obsessed, Anju pesters her promiscuous daughter to marry an Indian man, and her accountant son to snag that big promotion. Yet Jaffrey’s Anju is sympathetic in her senescence, her musical delivery making her onscreen offspring sound constipated by contrast.
As the dogsbody number cruncher yoked to a traditional Indian fiancée, Tahir is shaky to start, but manages Raj’s eventual meltdown without resorting to hysterics (to blow off steam, he stands in a restroom stall and grimaces). More problematic is Sheth’s underwritten, flatly acted Nina. Driven to deracination, bed-hopping Nina lives in perpetual reaction to her mother; she delivers her mantra, “I don’t know,” with childish venom. Set up by mom with a fresh-off-the-plane, marriage-minded Ashok (Aasif Mandvi), she finds herself falling, as much for him as for his memories of her as a happy child in India.
But the matrimonial pressure cooker rings false, based more on narrative convenience than cross-cultural reality; there’s no accounting for the shotgun speed with which she must decide between patient Ashok and her old flame, who channels all the whiteboy savoir faire of my man Rick Astley. (Then again, who could resist a getaway to WASP-signifying Nantucket, here embodied by a single dock?) The title acronym unfolds as “American-born confused desi”; ABCD‘s abecedarian treatment of melting-pot anxieties proves as jumbled and bland as alphabet soup.
A nimbler approach to border crossing, German-born director Fatih Akin’s In July resembles a shaggier Serendipity, with a similar moony conflation of coincidence and destiny. Footloose Juli (Christiane Paul) hawks jewelry in Hamburg; as her namesake month begins, she offers a Mayan sun ring to her secret crush, a timid teacher-in-training named Daniel (Run Lola Run‘s Moritz Bleibtreu), who buys not just the ring but her only-in-the-movies directive that his true love shall be known by the similar symbol she sports. That night Juli contrives to pass through his orbit, but he’s already found a Turkish lass with the proper astronomy, who then pips off to Istanbul for the summer. Pursuing by car, he picks up a hitchhiker—guess who.
Akin animates Juli’s rigged solar system by shuttling the predestined couple (both together and apart) through a back-roads Europe at the clip of roughly a country a day, with judicious visual punctuation: After a hot-wiring coup, Romania is abbreviated as a series of snapshots, the car undergoing a Platonic interrogation of form as parts are sold for scrap. A scene in which Juli introduces Daniel to pot seems bound for disaster, especially when they start singing “Blue Moon” in stoned and broken English. But just shy of the cringe threshold, their voices drop out, a little night music filters in, and the two levitate above the boat as it glides down the Danube: love as entirely bearable lightness of being.