by Corey Hall
Ocean of Pearls is a small movie with big goals, rooted in everyday problems yet probing cosmic questions, a noble effort even when drowning in its own earnestness.
If it tends to lead with its heart, it's because the project is a true labor of love for first-time filmmaker Sarab Neelam, an M.D. whose practice is in Sterling Heights.
This background results in a semi-autobiographical tale that deals with the American health care disaster while exposing mainstream viewers to the beauty of Sikh culture.
Omid Abtahi (24) stars as Amrit Singh, a young Sikh surgeon struggling between the currents of career, personal ambition, family and tradition. He's been picked to head up a new experimental organ transplant unit in Detroit, but that means breaking free from the comforting bubble of his close-knit suburban Toronto Sikh community, and away from his hardcore old-school father. Relocating stateside also means braving the TSA airport security, who red-flag his beard and turban and hassle him until his skills are needed in a medical emergency. Once in the D, he faces all sorts of new complications, including a flirtatious co-worker who tempts him from his longtime girlfriend back home, and a heartless medical system that often puts profits ahead of lives.
While Seelam isn't exactly a dazzling visual stylist, he has a knack with actors, getting a very strong performance from Abtahi, who nicely externalizes internal conflict.
There are a number of familiar faces from TV sprinkled throughout, including Ron Canada (Boston Legal) and Brenda Strong (Desperate Housewives). The rest of the cast is filled out by local talent, including a small but nicely rendered role by Detroit actress Aphrodite Nikolovski.
Dr. Neelam also does his best to shine a light on his adopted home town, reminding us that, deep down, the American story and the immigrant story will always be the same.
Opens Friday, Aug. 7, at the Landmark Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.