Lake Zurich's Roni Akurati a charmer in comedy 'Growing Up Smith'

  • Smith (Lake Zurich resident Roni Akurati), foreground, copes with the culture clash between Americans and his India-born parents (Poorna Jagannathan and Anjul Nigam) in "Growing Up Smith."

    Smith (Lake Zurich resident Roni Akurati), foreground, copes with the culture clash between Americans and his India-born parents (Poorna Jagannathan and Anjul Nigam) in "Growing Up Smith."

 
 
Updated 2/1/2017 10:37 AM

The culture-clash comedy "Growing Up Smith" possesses a big heart, features a funny and engagingly sincere performance by Lake Zurich's Roni Akurati, and offers an ending that swaps easy sentiment for the hard-earned kind.

These good qualities don't let the movie off the critical hook for trafficking in cliches (Look! There's the female love interest moving in slow motion!) or allowing an excessive and inconsistent voice-over narrator to do the heavy dramatic lifting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Akurati plays Smith, the 10-year-old son of India-born-and-raised parents Bhaaskar Bhatnagar (screenwriter Anjul Nigam) and Nalini Bhatnagar (Poorna Jagannathan).

Smith lives with them and his teen sister Asha (Shoba Narayan) during 1979 in an unnamed small American town where the kids try to fit in with Western culture, much to the displeasure of their conservative parents who have already picked their son's life vocation (a neurosurgeon) and his future wife.

Smith -- named by his dad who erroneously assumed "Smith" was a popular first name for Americans -- has trouble with racially motivated bullies, but his attentions drift to his classmate and neighbor Amy Brunner (Brighton Sharbino), who's cuter than a button even if she can't cry convincingly.

Smith imagines her blue-collar dad, Butch (top-billed actor Jason Lee), to be the quintessential American cowboy, and he does keep the peace in the neighborhood and watch out for Smith's welfare.

The heart of a TV After School Special beats within "Growing Up Smith," the feature directorial debut of Australian actor and producer Frank Lotito. In the absence of visual style and wit, he relies on his cast's easygoing charm, Michael Lira's bouncy, bubbly score and Kirsten Thorson's impressively authentic 1979 props, wallpaper and furniture to carry the movie.

And if Akurati ever tires of acting, he has a potential career as a John Travolta impersonator from "Saturday Night Fever." He's got the moves. And the suit.

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