Friday, March 31, 2017

Occasionally Amusing 'For Here or To Go?' Tackles Silicon Valley's Immigration Dilemma




This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

For Here or To Go? tells a story that will likely resonate with a large segment of Silicon Valley's immigrant workforce, and it's a story I haven't seen tackled by a film before. Sadly, its clunky execution and uneven tone might make it a tough sell to anyone outside that tech field or the immediate Bay Area.

Set in the Bay Area during the 2008 and 2009 economic downturn, the story centers on Vivek (Ali Fazal), a Mumbai-born tech worker hoping to transfer from his current job into a start-up more in tune with his chosen field. After a successful interview, he appears to be a shoe-in, until the company lets him know they can't hire him because his H1-B visa is set to expire in under a year, and they don't have the funds to provide the legal help needed to extend it.

This impending expiration proves to be a hindrance for his current employer as well, who is also not willing to spend the funds needed to get an extension. This leaves a green card as Vivek's only real option, but it's a process that can take years, and without a valid working H1-B visa, Vivek can be forced to leave the county almost immediately upon its expiration.

This dilemma, and the accompanying fear of deportation, which also affects workers who hold valid H1-B visas but work for companies that suddenly go under, is an interesting and important topic, and one I'll admit I didn't know much about prior to seeing For Here or To Go?, despite working in the tech industry myself.

But For Here or To Go? isn't a documentary, and it's not a drama, so while Vivek's seemingly impossible situation is the center of the film's story, it often gets buried by a romantic comedy subplot involving an American-born Indian (Melanie Kannokada), and not one, not two, but three wacky roommates. This constant switch from social commentary to light-hearted fare (there's even a Bollywood-style dance sequence) can be jarring.

The film was written by Rishi S. Bhilawadikar and directed by Rucha Humnabadkar, both tech workers who continued to work their tech jobs during the years it took to finish the movie, and continue to work tech jobs now. It's the first feature for both (and a low-budget one) which explains the film's elementary cinematic style and cinematography, which includes plenty of San Francisco locations, (including scenes at Dosa on Fillmore and Blondie's Bar and No Grill). Luckily, the casting of Fazal and Kannokada, who are both very good looking and naturally charming, helps the film rise a bit above its amateur feel.

Despite its clunkiness, For Here or To Go? is an occasionally amusing peek into a culture that makes a lot of contributions to the Bay Area and the country, and it also makes some salient points about how the US's immigration and visa policies may ultimately cause the entire country to lose ground when it comes to innovation if it forces its immigrant workers to take their skills and go home.

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