Definition Please is one of those relentlessly charming slice-of-life movies that are always fun to discover. It's culturally-specific in the details but universal in the themes – a tricky mix to achieve, but one that writer/director/star Sujata Day nails. Best of all, you can feel the passion that is infused in the story. After a successful film festival run, it will be available for streaming on Netflix starting January 21. Next time you're in the mood for a good-natured but still substantive movie, press play on this one.
Day plays Monica Chowdry, a former Scripps Spelling Bee champion living in Greensburg, Pennsylvania (a town, incidentally, that I lived in for a few years as a kid). According to her family and friends, she should have gone on to do big things as an adult. Instead, she's rather aimless, spending her days coaching children in the art of competing in those spelling bees. Monica's brother Sonny (Ritesh Rajan) returns home to care for their ailing, widowed mother, Jaya (Anna Khaja). The siblings don't have the best relationship, and he has some significant mental health problems that compound that problem.
With that set-up in place, Definition Please shows how a series of mishaps, disagreements, bad romances, and revelations help Monica re-assess who she is and where she wants to go in life.
Humor is abundant in the movie. In times of extreme emotion, for example, Monica internally spells complicated words that describe how she's feeling or what she's experiencing. Those words and their definitions are flashed onscreen to emphasize their meaning to her. Other jokes have a cultural flavor. At one point, a character remarks that the family situation is similar to the Bollywood soap operas that Jaya loves to watch. Such moments go a long way in making the family feel authentic to us. These people may have their problems, but there's a real bond between them.
Dramatic scenes make an impact, too. Sonny's mental health struggles are depicted with equal parts realism and compassion. Over time, we learn how some of the familial dynamics are triggers for him. That, in turn, drives the idea that Monica has to figure out her role within the unit and make changes that will be healthy for her. Watching Sonny struggle spurs her to start thinking about the importance of making the most of every day.
Sujata Day has a real gift for establishing a setting. Much of the movie takes place in and around the Chowdry home. It becomes a welcoming place that we like spending time in, and the characters she creates are people we enjoy following. Use of Greensburg locations are excellent, as well, capturing its mix of having small town qualities while also being part of the Pittsburgh Metro Area. So many movies take place in New York or L.A. Seeing one set in a less commonly portrayed area is nice.
Definition Please has one or two sequences of comedy – including a bit where Monica tackles a child who's bullying one of her students – that are slightly too broad compared to the identifiable human-centered comedy and the intense dramatic scenes. That's not a major flaw, though. Day gives a winning central performance in a movie that clearly, palpably comes from her heart. She's made something really special.
out of four
Definition Please is unrated, but contains adult language, some sexual content, and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.