Mira Nair makes a grave mistake in The Namesake. She centers her latest passion project around Kal Penn, a one note comedic actor who fails miserably at attempting dramatic heft. Penn’s spot on performance undermines each scene with an arrogance and uncertainty that doesn’t match, often leaving the other actors befuddled at his mere presence. On to the typical plot. Nair’s film concerns itself with one Indian family’s journey to America and their origins in the West, yet it adheres to every cliche known to immigrant stories. Every miscommunication, misunderstanding, and resentment between parents and children pops up, producing one painfully obvious scene after another. Nair pushes the melodrama straight down the jugular, painting the parental units as heroic martyrs and the spoiled children as heretics, only worthy of recognition when embracing the native perspective out of guilt. Movies like The Namesake make me angrier than pieces of trash like Transformers and Spider Man 3 because it tries so hard to be “independent” and “risky” by tackling supposed cultural boundaries and familial conflicts. The film treats these issues like fodder for easy consumption, just as a Hollywood film would mindless action, comedy, or horror. So really, The Namesake represents the simplest kind of independent spirit, one built out of lazy execution and tepid drama. Mira Nair has made good films in the past, but her latest dons the robes of mainstream cinema’s worst description – mediocrity incarnate.