Outsourced (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

In a welcome change from a growing number of dark, violent movies erupting in theaters this autumn, Outsourced is sweet and light. It's a celebration of cultural diversity and an affirmation that, despite differences in race, religion, and societal norms, people are essentially the same, with a lack of understanding being a key block to better relations. (Tell this to movies like Rendition, In the Valley of Elah, and Redacted, which posit something different.) This message is not hammered home in a heavy-handed manner. Instead, Outsourced is primarily a fish-out-of-water comedy with a little romance thrown in.

Todd (Josh Hamilton) is the manager of a call center for a novelty company based in Seattle. Once day - seemingly no different from any other - his world crumbles when his boss informs him that the entire department is being outsourced. Todd can keep his job, but there's a condition: he must travel to India to train his replacement and get the new call center's MPI (Minutes Per Incident) rate under 6.0. Reluctantly, Todd agrees to go. He doesn't relish leaving behind his comfortable home, but he fears the uncertainty of unemployment more. At first, he has trouble adjusting, but the help of Puro (Asif Basra), the man he's training, and Asha (Ayesha Dharker), with whom he develops a bond more intimate than friendship, he begins to acclimate to Indian society.

Outsourced is not overly jokey in the way it approaches Todd's cultural discomfort. There's humor to be found in these circumstances, as when a cow wanders into the call center and only Todd notices something unusual. However, the comedy is not forced or sit-com influenced; instead, it's more subtle and, as a result, feels more genuine and is more likely to evoke gentle laughter. Similar claims can be made about the movie's romance. Asha is engaged to be married (it's a union that was arranged when she was four years old), so there's no future in her relationship with Todd. They have a fling and, although their feelings for one another are sincere, they are not destined to be together. This bittersweet component makes Outsourced seem better grounded in reality. It does not take a "Hollywood" turn and fall in line with what might expect from a studio produced effort.

Good acting helps the film work. Josh Hamilton, who isn't a household name (he's probably best known for his appearance in Kicking and Screaming), is effectively low-key and sympathetic as Todd. It helps that his situation is so familiar - almost everyone watching the film will have been touched by outsourcing in one way or another (if not personally then as the victim on the other end of the phone call). Asif Basra's character is a little stereotypical, but he plays the part with good cheer and a good nature. Ayesha Dharker is attractive and likeable; most importantly, she and Hamilton have the spark necessary to make us hope against hope their characters are given the opportunity to defy convention.

Director John Jeffcoat and his low-key cast deserve the credit for making Outsourced such a delight. (Jeffcoat turned down studio deals for the script so he could direct it himself.) The film does not ignore the painful economic impacts caused by outsourcing and downsizing, but if finds new ways in which to address them. By taking Todd to India, Outsourced provides an opportunity to observe the situation from a different angle. This is a feel-good comedy, but there's truth to be mined beneath the lighthearted surface.

Outsourced (United States, 2006)

Director: John Jeffcoat
Cast: Josh Hamilton, Ayesha Dharker, Asif Basra, Arjun Mathur, Larry Pine, Matt Smith
Screenplay: George Wing & John Jeffcoat
Cinematography: Teodoro Maniaci
Music: BC Smith
U.S. Distributor: Truly Indie
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2007-09-28
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: Some English subtitled Hindi
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1