Director: Sujata Day
Writer: Sujata Day
Starring: Sujata Day, Ritesh Rajan, Jake Choi, Anna Khaja, Lalaine, Parvest Cheena, Tim Chiou, Katrina Bowden, LeVar Burton
Sujata Day directorial debut, Definition Please, which she also wrote and stars in, is an understated comedy/drama about family, expectations, and making a start in life. After winning a spelling bee at the age of eight, Monica (Sujata Day) become a bit of a local celebrity. Now that’s she’s grown up, helping teach spelling to children who are entering spelling bees. Her brother, Sonny (Ritesh Rajan) is coming back to town due to the anniversary of their father’s passing. At the same time their mother, Jaya (Anna Khaja), is suffering from an illness, with very little signs of improvement.
Definition Please, is a really strong debut from Sujata Day. It tells a deeply personal story about how Monica sees the world around her. She is almost trapped by the expectations after winning the spelling bee and appearing on TV, with a cameo from LeVar Burton. She’s still getting noticed by people in the small town that she lives in, as someone who should be achieving more than she has. At one point her best friend tells her what other spelling bee champions have achieved, comparing it to Monica who still lives at home with her mother.
The heart and soul of the story is the relationship between Monica and Sonny. They don’t always see eye to eye with each other, and their strained relationship is causing more stress for their ill mother. Sonny suffers from bipolar disorder and his mood changes sometimes very quickly, with very small details, such as receiving a greeting card with a joke about yoga on the front, driving him into rage. He scares Monica, which is the main reason their relationship is so strained.
This isn’t trying to be a hard-hitting drama about mental illness, it’s more about the relationship between the siblings who are going through a tough time with their family. Both Day and Rajan are really good in their roles, both feeling very natural and the chemistry between them is believable as siblings. Rajan does a great job at capturing the different moods, at no point does he feel like a caricature or exaggerated.
Day’s writing feels very authentic and most of the dialogue is natural. There are a couple of clunky lines, but nothing that’s going to distract you too much from the story. The characters are really well-written and feel relatable, which is the most important thing. It’s also genuinely funny in places, but this isn’t a full-on comedy. The laughs are sporadic throughout the film, it’s more drama than comedy.
Definition Please is a story about growing up and not knowing how to get your life properly started. It’s a familiar story, presented from a fresh perspective. Sujata Day’s first film as writer and director is more than decent and it’s exciting to see what may come next.
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