Film Review: Not TodayVitally important theme unstrung by shaky direction, writing and acting and a major flaw in subtitling.
Happy-go-lucky party animal Caden Welles (Cody Longo) gets smacked upside the head with reality when he and his crew go to Hyderabad, India, seeking fun. He encounters a desperately poor father and daughter, Kiran (Walid Amini) and Annika (Persis Karen), of the Dalit or “untouchable” caste, whose pleas for help he rejects. Conscience-ridden, he seeks them out again, only to discover that Kiran has sold Annika into child slavery. Suddenly, chasing booze and sex fades in importance as he goes on rescue alert.
Human trafficking is, of course, one of the modern world’s greatest tragedies and horrors, with some 27 million souls caught up in it, and any film exposing it must be commended. However, while there is no doubting the intentions of the makers of Not Today, the result, awkward and often ineptly acted, is far less laudable.
Writer-director Jon Van Dyke has a tin ear for dialogue, and his film is not helped by winsome, distracting subtitles which he splashes across the screen rather than in their usual position at the bottom of the frame. Far from being helpfully innovative, with different fonts signifying the words of different characters and even arrows pointing when a character says, “We’ll sleep here,” they have the unwanted effect of trivializing the story, adding an always disconcerting touch of whimsical precocity which must have been the last thing Van Dyke wanted.
“This is so jacked up!” wails Caden at one particularly dire moment, and while Longo gives it everything he’s got, he cannot overcome the abysmal script and an innate personal lack of depth that keeps you from fully identifying with his noble character transformation. (Although, really, who in the world could deliver a line like “There is something to that saying, ‘I once was lost and now I’m found”?) Little Karen is, of course, meant to break your heart, but her forced, untrained line readings—more recitations, really—also keep you at arm’s length.
I confess to feeling guilty myself over this pan of so much worthy intention in the service of an important cause. However, just the fact that it ends with a variety of random people facing the screen and beseeching us to do something about this problem unfortunately suggests both a PSA and the inescapable fact that Van Dyke should have just made a straight documentary to get the word out properly.