Review: ‘Definition Please’ spells out a promising future for Sujata Day

A woman and a man in the produce section of a grocery store.
Sujata Day, left, and Ritesh Rajan in the 2020 drama “Definition Please.”
(June Street Productions)

With a few exceptions, like “Laggies” and “Young Adult,” the subgenre of arrested-development movies centers on listless white male protagonists. But “Definition Please” offers a new perspective on that feeling of inertia, focusing on a young Indian American woman. Sujata Day’s directorial debut adds cultural specificity in a broadly resonant story about 20-something Monica Chowdry (writer-director Day), who has never really advanced past her win of the Scribbs (yes, Scribbs) National Spelling Bee as an 8-year-old.

As an adult, Monica’s still-advanced vocabulary stumps her friends, and she has parlayed her title into tutoring would-be champs in her Pennsylvania hometown. She’s surrounded by the past — nursing her ill mother (Anna Khaja) while living in her childhood bedroom — as she tries to figure out her future. Further complicating her choices is the sudden appearance of her brother (Ritesh Rajan). He has his parallel struggles reconciling what he wants with familial and cultural expectations.

“Definition Please” doesn’t always have the connective tissue needed to tell its story clearly, and it wobbles between comedy and melodrama, as unsure of its place in the world as Monica. However, Day has something as both an actress and a filmmaker. As a performer, there are moments where there is a palpable joy in her presence; it’s clear that Day delights in what she does. Similarly, her script sparks to life at times, and as a director, she demonstrates a unique style, interjecting spelled-out words and their meanings alongside nods to Bollywood cinema. “Definition Please” is one of those debuts that doesn’t fully cohere on its own but hints at the promise of what the filmmaker can do.


‘Definition Please’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: Available Jan. 21 on Netflix