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A comedy of job loss

Sep. 4, 2008
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   Most Americans have decided that outsourcing has gotten out of hand, especially after it became a bland euphemism for exporting large numbers of jobs overseas. Anxiety over outsourcing is mounting lately, even in relatively high-level professions such as banking.

  What better balm for anxiety than laughter? Outsourced is a bright comedy about greedy American corporations, low-wage Indian workers, cultural incomprehension and the bonds that can form across all barriers by people of good will-especially, but not only, if they fall in love.

  A velvet-soft satire of the global economy's downside, Outsourced is also a fish-out-of-water comedy about an American executive stumbling around in India. He's there to train the local employees of an "order fulfillment center," a phone bank taking credit card calls for kitschy Americana products mostly made in China by other low-paid workers.

  The American executive, Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton), works in a sterile gray cubicle in a Seattle office tower, playing video poker in between fielding dull calls about the shoddy line of patriotic knickknacks his company peddles. When the boss utters those dreaded words, "I need you in my office," Todd may have every reason to fear the worst. But instead of being downsized during the "restructuring" of his firm, he witnesses the jobs of all his co-workers being outsourced to India. Worse, Todd has been selected to oversee the Indian operation. He's not enthusiastic, but he has little choice. Unlike his boss, he's not evil-merely clueless.

  The missed signals and misunderstandings begin moments after his arrival at Mumbai airport. Todd walks past someone holding a sign reading "Mr. Toad," never imagining that his Indian hosts have confused his name with a species of amphibian. "Mr. Toad" becomes one of Outsourced's funniest comedic riffs as Todd shrugs and carries on with his unwanted new moniker.

  Todd's Indian office manager is eager for the task at hand. "I'm so fortunate to be learning the ways of American business from you, Mr. Toad," he gushes with evident sincerity. But Todd also has lots to learn. The cow that calmly occupies the conference room may be an unmovable obstacle, but Todd finds ways to motivate his employees by bending company rules to fit local customs-even as he teaches them the comically flat, nasal intonations of the Midwest American English they are supposed to use when speaking to Yankee customers.

  One phone solicitor challenges him continually. Asha (Ayesha Dharker) questions whether his English is really better than hers and balks at lying to customers about where she is located. "Chicago?" she asks indignantly. Naturally, Asha and her boss eventually fall into bed and in love.

  Writer-director John Jeffcoat handles the hot-button topic of lost jobs, a potentially painful one for many Americans, with a wit and grace unusual in contemporary comedies. Outsourced holds out little hope in the short term for reforming the profit-at-all-costs mentality of postmodern capitalism, even as it presents a happy vision of a world where multiple cultural hybrids can flourish and people of different backgrounds can come together.

Outsourced opens Sept. 6 at the Rosebud Cinema.


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