21 September 2014 | l_rawjalaurence
Likable Film, Although it Does Perpetuate Stereotypes
In terms of content, it's hard not to like MILLION DOLLAR ARM. There's a winning performance from Jon Hamm as the harassed agent trying his best to re-establish himself, while discovering the importance of looking after his charges; complemented by Lake Bell as the next- door neighbor, the intern who understands more about the young Indian boys' predicament of inhabiting a completely alien culture. As the two boys, Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal are particularly good at communicating - often through nonverbal means - their sheer bewilderment once they are transplanted from their rural Indian surroundings to metropolitan Los Angeles. Although they eventually make a success of their quest to become major league baseball pitchers, they nonetheless find it difficult to adapt to alien surroundings.
And yet there is a strong sense in which Craig Gillespie's film serves to perpetuate rather than negotiate stereotypes about the Indian nation and its people, and the Americans' responses to it. Hamm's JB is predictably confused by the disorganized ways in which the Indian people do business, especially in his interactions with Vivek (Darshan Jariwala). By implication, therefore, the American (i.e. efficient) ways, are naturally superior. Meanwhile aging coach Ray (Alan Arkin) rejects the Indian way of life altogether, as he complains about the prospect of contracting the so-called "Delhi belly" (an upset stomach), and returns to America on the first available flight.
Once the Indian boys are transplanted to the United States, they are frequently used as butts for cheap jokes; there is one scene in a hotel, where they experience problems with the elevator, which is particularly orientalist in tone. The film seems not to be aware of contemporary realities; in economic terms India is no longer a backward country but gradually becoming an economic superpower in its own right.
Nonetheless the film does make an effort to recognize the strengths of Indian cultures; the emphasis on family stability and the ability to converse contrasts starkly with JB's life, in which he is so busy that he has little time either to consider marriage or even to talk to anyone at length. The Indian characters also take time for daily prayers; the contemplative life is as significant as the active life in human beings. Perhaps the western world has become too secular to understand this.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM is an ambivalent piece, at once celebratory of yet still reluctant to recognize the strength of contemporary Indian cultures. Yet it's still worth a look.