Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Director: Saila Kariat
Studio: Wavefront Productions
Review Rating: 7 out of 10
Neal Kumar (Alyy Khan) thought he had worked hard enough to make a perfect world for his wife Roopa and daughters, Monica (Salma Khan) and Maya. They have the giant enviable house, a longstanding servant woman, plenty enough money to send both girls to good colleges and still continue to live in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. Except it wasn’t always that way, and Neal especially, doesn’t want his children to know how he and his own immigrant parents struggled when they first came to America. And all this affluence comes at a heavy price.
When we begin, there’s been a death in the family. Not from accident or disease, no, the youngest girl Maya (Agneeta Thacker) took her own life. And because she was the pearl of her fathers eye, Neal takes a trip through his daughter’s last few weeks, searching for answers as to why his beloved Maya would do such a thing. Mother Roopa (Suchitra Pillai) can barely hold it together, nevermind investigating her daughter’s suicide with Neal. Didi (Samina Peerzada) the housekeeper and the last remaining child Monica are both invisible in the parents’ grief, either that or sources to pound for information with bits of frustrated shouting tossed in. And so Neal is off on his own, following Maya’s ghost to try and find her heart.
Maya’s roommate in college is pretty much the exact opposite of Maya herself – a loud, bottle-blonde, daisy-duke-ing all-American cheerleader type, Laura wouldn’t know a study book if it landed on her head. But Laura (Hope Lauren) does pay enough attention to be able to direct Neal to his next source of information – Maya’s only real college friend Alicia. And Alicia has way more information than the roommate ever did. Alicia (Christa B. Allen) gently walks Mr. Kumar through Maya’s unuttered stress, the guy she was tentatively seeing, her slipping grades, and Maya’s quiet anguish about all of it.
Steinbeck’s The Pearl novel wasn’t a pleasant novelization to begin with, and though it happens to be Maya’s favorite book, her description of the plot to cute little Chris Williams (Jake T. Austin) is beautifully depressing. Pearls themselves are important to her, and meaningful to her father, as we see in a loving flashback wherein Neal buys his daughter a flawless pearl necklace and explains to her the purity of the process of making a pearl, never quite comprehending that his own speeches and quiet remonstrances are beginning to create layers of disturbance within his own daughters mind.
Off we continue on to talk with the boyfriend, Chris, who recounts a rather monstrous but entirely predictable instance of an over-stressed Maya at a college party. Neals’ reaction to the story he’s told is completely understandable, and yet at the same time Chris’ ability to answer his interrogation more or less calmly took some serious nerve. Still not finding an answer to the enigma of his youngest childs’ suicide, Avenging Dad takes his leave.
Plenty of revelations come to light as finally both Roopa and Neal, the beleaguered parents left in this mess, confess their faults and shortcomings in the death of their youngest child, and how they’ve been treating each-other for far too long. This sort of blunt honesty is indeed brutal, but somehow cathartic at the same time, reminding those of us watching to tell the truth at least sometime in our lives, lest it really be far too late.
‘The Valley’ is a flinching look at the expectations and tremendous pressure put on American immigrants, and most especially their children, to be successful even beyond their forebearers, and the often disastrous consequences of simply not talking to our family members.
I was fortunate to speak with ‘The Valley’ director Saila Kariat at the San Diego Asian Film Festival 2017, and she provided me with a fantastic quote to sum up her first feature film: “Choose compassion, choose connection, over competition”.