A visit from a long-lost relative shakes up a stuck-in-neutral couple in "The Playback Singer," a comic drama set in Van Nuys that doesn't shake up a shopworn scheme, yet isn't just a rote culture-clash outing that merely connects the dots on the way to a heartwarming huddle.
Droll, unforced humor and low-magnitude emotional tremors register persuasively thanks to the natural performances of the three leads. Indian actor-singer Piyush Mishra, making his English-language film debut in the title role, plays Ashok, a Bollywood soundtrack singer who's staying with Priya (Navi Rawat), the daughter he hasn't seen in almost 20 years. His stateside concert tour turns out to be a nonstarter, leaving him plenty of time to push the buttons of son-in-law Ray (Ross Partridge), a 40ish slacker and work-from-home designer who specializes in procrastination.
Ashok goes in for the kill with absurdly intrusive questions about the couple's finances and childlessness. His tactlessness is rooted in Old World notions about marriage and family — a paradox considering that he barely knows his daughter, broke her mother's heart and has just been left by his fifth wife. That Ashok and Ray will find common ground is no surprise, but neither the script nor the actors oversell the rapprochement.
The performances — Mishra's imperious fool especially — navigate unapologetic contradictions. Writer-director Suju Vijayan, whose background is in nonfiction TV, works within an obviously small budget for her first feature. The visual style is plain, uninspired. But the closing chord is hopeful in its open-endedness, and the way it avoids perfect harmony.
"The Playback Singer."
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.