February 15, 2021

SCREEN | Sujata Day Spells Trouble – 'Definition Please'

Lalaine Sujata Day | Definition Please
Insecure alum Sujata Day makes her feature directorial debut with an endearing film about family and stalled adulthood in Definition Please. Framed around a former child national spelling bee champion struggling to grow up and live up to her full potential as an adult, Day who stars as twentysomething Monica, weaves issues of South Asian values and anxieties through her appealing indie dramedy.

Co-starring Ritesh Rajan and Anna Khaja as Monica's estranged brother and ailing mother mourning the anniversary of their father/husband's passing, the story features some familiar Asian-American faces in small but key roles that flesh the wandering, occasionally meandering, but personal tale of feeling lost at home as a young adult still beholden to the traditions and obligations of your immigrant family.

Partially inspired by the DIY production of Justin Chon's searing Korean-American drama Gook, there's a very suburban feel to Definition Please's middle America setting with a fresh take on Bollywood-type storytelling tropes. It's an interesting premise for sure—wondering what happens to a child prodigy and imagining what these spelling champions, who are traditionally of South Asian descent, go on to do in success. How the film positions itself around a conflicting sibling relationship focused on resentment and untreated mental illness feels refreshing in its stark frankness.

Day does her best on an indie budget to dismantle or challenge all the usually accepted myths about Asians being model minorities in her straightforward script. Definition Please is best when it focuses firmly on its characters' highs and lows, their triumphs and struggles through moments of earnest reflection. I could have done without the more expected plotting and third act reversal, but the film manages to connect its dynamics together with a tenderly honest look at a flawed Indian-American family of adults all doing their best.

Update: Definition Please screens as part of the 2021 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It's now available to stream on Netflix.

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