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A fast trip on 'Brick Lane'

The storytelling is awfully compressed in this adaptation of Monica Ali's expansive novel. The film is glossy but ineffective.

June 20, 2008|Jan Stuart | Special to The Times
  • PLAINTIVE: In ?Brick Lane,? Tannishtha Chaterjee portrays a yearning Bangladeshi who?s living in East London.
PLAINTIVE: In ?Brick Lane,? Tannishtha Chaterjee portrays a yearning… (Joss Barratt / Sony Pictures…)

Tannishtha Chaterjee is a supple screen presence with a reticent smile and big, pining eyes. That plaintive gaze gets a workout in "Brick Lane," in which she inhabits the skin of Nazneen, a Bangladeshi transplant to East London who variously yearns for her rural village, the sister she left back home and a handsome lug to rescue her from the passionless banality of her domestic life.

Forced into an arranged marriage at 17 with an expat Bangladeshi, Nazneen finds herself drifting like a ghost through the days, tending selflessly to the needs of two daughters and her babbling bureaucrat mate, Chanu (the excellent Satish Kaushik, who vivifies the thankless role of the corpulent husband who snores into dreamland right after sex).

"Brick Lane" has been whittled down from Monica Ali's expansive 2003 novel into a glossy but overly efficient drama that, like Nazneen's husband, is ultimately too ineffectual to make much of a dent. Confining the events to 2001, screenwriters Abi Morgan and Laura Jones meld romantic pulp and historical cataclysm to slapdash effect, as Nazneen's clandestine affair with a young Muslim garment worker (Christopher Simpson) is complicated by the events of Sept. 11.

Making her directing debut, Sarah Gavron freights the narrative with one too many "Color Purple"-ish reveries of lost girlhood innocence amid pastoral splendor (Robbie Ryan did the decorous photography).

In the interest of keeping things moving, Morgan and Jones iron the atmosphere and spontaneity out of almost every event; this is the sort of film in which a character looks longingly at a store-window sewing machine in one scene, then has one miraculously drop in her lap in the following scene.

One finds oneself grateful for the stray detail that is allowed through the gate: the roving Londoner who snaps a photograph of the sari-draped Nazneen on the fly, like a hothouse flower in the pavement, or the effigy of President Bush that goes up in smoke atop a neighborhood bonfire. There is a passing glimpse of Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson in "Brief Encounter," which has a way of turning up in movies with marital indiscretions on their mind.


"Brick Lane." MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief strong language. Playing at Laemmle's Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581; Laemmle's Fallbrook 7, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; Laemmle's Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, (818) 981-9811; Regency South Coast Village, 1561 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 557-5701.

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