I’m not sure what’s behind the number of movies being shot in Toronto lately that actually want to show what city they’re in, but I’ll definitely own up to loving it. Dr. Cabbie is this week’s number—the main premise making it an ideal way to get the city into each shot. Despite that luxury, I couldn’t say for sure that the film ever makes its way out of the downtown, literally and figuratively.
Dr. Cabbie feels closely linked to star Vinay Virmani’s cinematic debut, Breakaway, about an Indian-Canadian hockey team struggling to find acceptance in Canada. This time around, he’s an Indian doctor who moves to Canada and can only find work as a cabbie. It’s yet another oddly serious theme considering how much fun Dr. Cabbie is trying to have (and how much fun Breakaway was obviously having as it played with the sports genre). At the same time, it’s nice to see the issue getting out there in a movie that’s going to draw more viewers than a straight-up drama about our shambolic immigration process.
The first half of the film does a great job milking the bureaucratic mess for all its worth, giving Virmani’s Deepak plenty of moments to showcase his own compassion compared to his licensed competition while still squeezing laughs out of the people he meets settling into life in a new country. His mother, Nellie (Lilette Dubey, Monsoon Wedding) proves to be surprisingly adaptable thanks to the help of her strange stripper-turned-Asian-spiritualist sister-in-law while still being one of the few who continues to push Deepak to keep trying to get work in his field. Meanwhile Dr. Cabbie changes up the usual rom-com conventions by having its lead fall for Friday Night Lights‘s Adrienne Palicki’s pregnant Natalie just before she ends up giving birth in his cab.
There are a couple of other moments where Dr. Cabbie goes against convention—I’m grateful they managed to make Chris Diamantopoulos a mayoral candidate who’s a dick without a coke problem (that joke is getting very, very old) and the outcome of the trial that makes up the second, slower half isn’t as predictable as it usual is. But thanks to its happy-go-lucky attitude there are times when it all gets a bit too predictable. Meanwhile, Kunal Nayyar’s brief break from playing quiet Raj on Big Bang Theory seems to have gone to his head, and he turns his character Tony into a disgusting letch even as the writers use the remaining cast to try and coax laughs out of fat-shaming and homophobia. For a film that’s made its main premise the issues facing a minority community, it was a surprise to see things go in that direction.
Which is why, even though I couldn’t help but leave the theatre feeling at least some of the positivity Deepak lives life with, I wasn’t satisfied with the film in the way I expected. The good-hearted fun of its main story gets weighed down in the social issues through a trial, which would have been fine had the remaining cast who were supposed to offer up the fun not soured the humour with cheap blows. There’s certainly plenty to be said about the issues Dr. Cabbie tackles, but when the jokes stop coming from that end and we have to depend on the crude Tony and Co., well, it’s not quite the dance number I was hoping for.