OIFF: M Cream

dir: Agneya Singh, 2015

When we put on a road movie, what are we looking for? Humor? Self-discovery? Pretty terrain? When you narrow it down to “stoner road movie,” the answer (ironically) becomes a little more lucid. We’re there for over-the-top munchies hijinx and a Neil Patrick Harris cameo. M Cream provides neither of these things, but it does mix the former three well enough that you’ll leave it pleasantly buzzed, even if you’re not butane-hash-oil blown away.

I caught M Cream during the Oakland International Film Festival over a month ago. I was going to review it right after, but I didn’t, then I was going to review it on 4/20, and…now it’s the middle of May. If you’re wondering why I’m even bothering at this point, it’s because despite sounding like a generic festival programmer on paper, it’s stickier than I expected (alright, I’ll stop).

M Cream follows four Indian college students on a road trip, one purpose of which is to acquire a form of pure hash now that their local dealer is dry. The real purpose is to develop predictable but enjoyable sexual tension between the two leads. Figaro, or Figs (Imaad Shah), is a bougie stoner whose parents want to send him to Harvard—he just wants to keep the party going. Jay (Ira Dubey), on the other hand, is a politically minded, ambitious student who hopes to better her community and has no interest in that stupid green stuff. Both characters think the other is full of it and needs a wake-up call.

What but a trip through Himachal Pradesh with their annoying friends (Maggie and Liz, a couple) could bring these people to see the good in each other? Maybe Figs will get involved in a social cause! Maybe Jay will do drugs! It’s a formulaic setup, but one that M Cream’s strong leads make specific. Lots of microbudget festival movies have good acting, but you don’t usually expect their unknown casts to have movie-star charisma. Shah’s swagger will remind you of the privileged stoner at your college you couldn’t help but like, and he puts enough insecurity behind his eyes that you want to see him grow. Dubey takes the traits of the stereotypical villain in weed movies—judgy side-eye, ideological passion—and works some kind of magic to make them likeable. I’d look out for these actors, assuming more of Hollywood starts casting Indians as something other than terrorists.

On the other hand, one thing M Cream has going against it is its stable of walk-ons. Being a road movie, it has a revolving door of quirky off-the-grid characters: a Tibetan Buddhist in exile, an expat hippie guru, an environmental journalist whom Jay admires. They’re not bad per se, but they tend to inspire the four main characters to do some terrible monologuing. As an indie movie that wants to be About Something, M Cream has many scenes where characters stop talking to each other and start pontificating about absolutely nothing*. It never got bad enough to completely derail the movie for me, but be warned that it can be a diamonds-in-the-rough experience.

Besides the romcom aspects, M Cream is worth seeing for the photography. I mean, watch the trailer (link above). Himachal Pradesh is very purdy, and director Agneya Singh makes the most of its vistas. This is his first feature, so there are some issues with complicated blocking and awkward pauses, but he knows how to impress on a technical level when it counts (like the opening long-take through a Delhi mansion). He thankfully avoids the sitcom pacing of most stoner movies, preferring to move the actors around the screen in a graceful, classical way. Even when characters start to ramble, he’s usually able to frame their blathering in a way that highlights some underlying drama.

Although it didn’t have the Doritos-and-milkshakes dream sequence I was expecting, M Cream was overall a pleasant surprise. I can see most American audiences getting impatient with it, but if it ends up getting distribution over here, it might be worth your time.

*I.e. their futures, the meaning of life, romance, spirituality, revolutionary impulses, democratic and environmental ideals, India’s future as a geopolitical player.

absolutely no relation to r. kelly.Kells is an Oakland native with a sad compulsion to put his opinions online. He hopes that you like them, but what’s really important is that you like yourself. @awkeller510

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