“Land of Gold” is a sweet immigrant’s odyssey road picture that walks the fine line between “cute” and “cutesey” all the way from LA To Boston.
Writer, director and star Nardeep Khurmi gives us a sentimental view of America wrapped in the harsh realities of family obligations, broken dreams, racism and the plight of the undocumented.
It’s a slow-moving story with a seriously out-of-date view of long-haul trucking, here set on “Duel” southwestern backroads with constant stops and general dawdling, a lack of urgency that spreads to the movie’s central crisis and conflict. But for all that “75 minute movie in a 100 minute package” business, it’s intensely likeable.
Kiran (Khurmi) has taken over his father’s one-truck business and moved his wife into the family home. Preeti (Pallavi Sastry) is very pregnant, and was under the impression he would take the last couple of weeks or her pregnancy off to finally pick a color and paint the baby nursery, cater to her OB-GYN visits and other needs and generally make ready.
But the second baby shower that his more observant and overbearing Sikh mother (Rita Sachdeva, superb) insisted they have and worries about money have him so overwhelm that he takes on a job.
That’s what he tells himself and her, anyway. He keeps referring to their daughter in vague, theoretical terms, the last thing the woman bearing his child wants to hear. He’s made this trip decision without her, the “concept” of a baby isn’t due for several days. What’s the big deal?
Maybe he’ll look up his estranged brother on the East Coast. Maybe he’ll relish the break from a brittle marriage.
But his little “break” on the open road gets hijacked when he finds a tween girl, Elena (Caroline Valencia) stowing away in his trailer. She won’t talk or explain herself, tries to run away and maces him to manage that.
And when she faints out of exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrician, and lets bits up her story come out — she has an uncle in Boston she must get to — Kiran wishes she’s never opened her mouth.
It’s complicated. But he’s been through some trauma himself, as flashbacks tell us. And he’s Sikh, so there’s no sense even trying to turn her in to the authorities.
“She needs help. End of story.”
Khurmi lays out their budding relationship in broad, cliched strokes. She’s messing with his stuff in the sleeper, drinking up his soft drinks and ignoring instructions, which puts her in danger and has him fearing arrest. She hums “Silent Night” and makes a visit to a small Catholic church they stop near. And he introduces her to his cuisine — “Just eat it like a burrito!” “Burritos are NOT Mexican!” — and his faith when they stop at a gurdwara, a Sikh temple.
But cloying though they may be, the bonding scenes work. Well, maybe not the ones where Elena instantly connects with the grumpy Preeti and pushy granny-to-be Raveena, who soften in their Facetime chats with the plucky little girl, which rub much of the edge and potential for conflict off the story. Still, when it errs it errs on the side of “sweet.”
The third act’s surprises and resolution give this slight picture a lift it sorely needs. I had a hard time buying into anybody who’d call their baby a “concept,” even in the heat of an argument.
Rating: unrated, arrests, alcohol abuse
Cast: Nardeep Khurmi, Caroline Valencia, Pallavi Sastry and Riti Sachdeva
Credits: Scripted and directed by Nardeep Khurmi. An HBO Max release.
Running time: 1:44