“Capsule Movie Reviews: Today’s Special”
Published: Nov. 19, 2010

Directed with verve by David Kaplan from Aasif Mandvi and Jonathan Bines’ exceptional screenplay, “Today’s Special” stars Mandvi as a sous-chef at a Manhattan restaurant whose plans to head to Paris for further culinary study are derailed after his father suffers a heart attack and he must take over the family restaurant in Queens.

Imaginative, warm and witty, the film, inspired by Mandvi’s prize-winning play “Sakina’s Restaurant,” is an irresistible delight, its theatrical roots vanishing amid a gracefully cinematic evocation of life in Jackson Heights, a venerable Queens neighborhood with an inviting human scale and grand rooftop vistas of the New York skyline. It is alive with a screen full of captivating characters, all written with affection and exquisitely played by a raft of fine actors.

Mandvi’s Samir is a man in his 30s in need of unleashing his creativity — and of finding romance as well. The son of Indian immigrant parents (played by Harish Patel and Madhur Jaffrey), he is constantly harangued by his bombastic tyrant of a father who never tires of comparing Samir unfavorably to his dead brother.

When the long-suffering son enters the shabby, failing storefront Tandoori Palace having no idea of how to make masala or any other Indian dish, help arrives in the form a colorful cabbie (Naseeruddin Shah) who swears he has cooked for Indira Gandhi. Shah’s Akbar is a free spirit of much cosmopolitan sophistication, boundless charm and beguiling storytelling abilities — his tales might not be entirely credible, but you want them to be.

As the story unfolds, Samir’s chance encounter with a lovely former co-worker (Jess Weixler) could develop into something stronger than a rekindled friendship. Moving toward its not entirely surprising conclusion, this endearing film proceeds with the most delicate of nuances, all of them acutely observed and beautifully expressed.

“Today’s Special” is a gem of wide appeal, richly deserving of finding an audience. Its makers know we know where it’s headed, but they make the journey a joy to behold.