Movies · Reviews

Review: Raspberry Magic

By  · Published on March 9th, 2010

The Center for Asian America Media presents the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF) this March 11th-21st. The SFIAAFF is the nation’s largest showcase for new Asian American and Asian films, annually presenting approximately 120 works in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. Since 1982, the SFIAAFF has been an important launching point for Asian American independent filmmakers as well as a vital source for new Asian cinema. For more coverage, visit our SFIAAFF 2010 homepage.

Raspberry Magic

Director: Leena Pendharkar

Country: USA

“What’s the purpose of family if they can’t be there?”

The simple truth at the heart of this movie is the universality of loss, pain, love, and family…

Monica Shah is your typical eleven year-old girl out to prove the importance of human contact in relation to raspberry growth. Well maybe that part isn’t all that typical, but she’s also a normal pre-teen with a precocious younger sister, parents who fight a little more than they should, and a regional science fair to win. Her theory is that touch can actually accelerate and help the growth process of raspberries, but she soon discovers that human contact plays an even more important role elsewhere. A classmate sabotages her experiment, her father loses his job and his dignity, and her mother and sister fall into a spiral of depression. As her family falls apart Monica has to decide between giving up all together or applying her hypothesis in more creative ways.

Raspberry Magic is a sweet and simple little film that accomplishes exactly what it tries to and nothing more. If that sounds like a negative it really shouldn’t. Many more ambitious films fail in trying to reach too high and too hard. The story here follows a young girl forced to deal with situations that occur every day… from a father who loses his job and is ashamed at his inability to support his family, to a mother who begins to doubt her own choices and abilities, to a sister lost in the shuffle of depression and failure. We’ve seen these situations before but the lessons that come from them bear repeating. The family dynamic here is recognizable and appealing, and they quickly become the heart and soul of the film.

The movie’s universal appeal is a credit to director Leena Pendharkar as she’s chosen to tell a human story over a strictly regional one. There’s nothing wrong with that obviously, as other films at the festival show, but Raspberry Magic is concerned more with what it’s like being a family over the specificity of being an Indian, Chinese, or Japanese family. Love, pride, joy, and ambition aren’t American ideals… they’re human ones. As with several of the movies at SFIAAFF this year Raspberry Magic shows us how similar our differences can be. This could just as easily have been an ABC Family movie starring Elle Fanning as Monica surrounded by a roster of familiar sitcom stars and faces. (Of course if this was a typical white cast we’d miss out on the subtle joke found in the Indian worker seeing his job outsourced to India.)

Pendharkar’s assured directing is joined by solid acting across the board. Lily Javaherpour shines as Monica and fills the screen with a delicate balance of optimism and concern. Monica knows enough to worry, but Javaherpour is able to express a youthful belief alongside that worry to show that everything is going to be okay. It’s a confidence found only in the young before they’ve experienced the heavy reality of adulthood. Some recognizable faces are also on hand including Maulik Pancholy from “30 Rock”, James Morrison from “24”, and child actor Zach Mills as the little bastard who sabotages Monica’s experiment.

Raspberry Magic is true to its title in that it contains bowlfuls of raspberries and a little bit of magic. The metaphorical relationship between the titular fruit and Monica’s family are a bit overdone at times, but the movie makes up for it with a conclusion that dispels with the comparison in favor of real truth. It’s a sweet and breezy film that only drags slightly in the middle as the various pieces begin to reassemble. Javaherpour is a talent to watch and (along with Pendharkar) is a name worth remembering. And Raspberry Magic is a movie worth seeing, because no matter the race, creed, or nationality, every family can use a little magic now and then.

Raspberry Magic is playing FRI 03/12 9:00pm at the Landmark Clay Theatre and MON 03/15 4:30pm at the Sundance Kabuki 5

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.