The Big Sick (*****) is graceful, genuine and funny

Big Sick.jpgThe Big Sick – 2017

Director Michael Showalter
Written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Starring Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam, Kher, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Kurt Braunohler, Shenaz Treasury, Vela Lovell, Zenobia Shroff

However much of the events that inspire a story like The Big Sick, the important thing is whether they are transpired in a manner that is true to how we live. There are so many events in this story that could have happened in any of our lives, it doesn’t really matter if the embellish a detail or two. What they don’t exaggerate is the importance of being a true person no matter where you fall in a story.

“Don’t you ever want to just be in a relationship so you can just finally relax?”

This is a line that is stated by a character who is in the film for perhaps five minutes. Her name is Khadija (Lovell), and she is one of many young women who’ve been set up for Kumail in an attempt to arrange marriage, as is Pakistani tradition. She is just one of the many beautiful women he has no interest in. She is, in that small space of celluloid, someone we all can identify with.

As Khadija says this, it’s clear that she’s just exhausted. She’s been through the ringer too many times to put on her best face. I looked over at my wife and she looked at me. We’ve were both there, many years ago.  Through everything we’ve seen as a couple, we’ve felt that relaxation. We never want to lose that feeling.

That there are several real male and female characters in The Big Sick is a tribute to its writers, the real life couple whose story is presented in the film. There are very few caricatures in the film. The ones that might qualify are so deftly handled, it just feels like a person we know and not a punchline waiting around to be had.

So many times when watching films about the life of a comedian you have several people who could fit in any cliché. There’s the buddy comedian, the nemesis comedian, the one that’s just not funny. In this case, these are friends who are all pretty funny. Even the one they say isn’t that funny.

The story is about the real life relationship of Emily and Kumail. They meet, become a couple, find out they’ve not been completely honest with each other and break up. Then she gets sick and he’s brought back into her life. Though she never has a say about it, since she’s in a coma.

As a couple, Emily and Kumail are cute without being precious. He’s got habits and a routine of bringing women into his life and “initiating” them with his favorite B movies. She’s clever enough to call him out on it. He’s genuine enough to admit it. She’s not mean, though. He has a one man show that’s not good. She asks questions that get him to think, but it doesn’t pound the point home with the audience. We know she has to be good for him. The change doesn’t need to be instantaneous.

The truths they are reluctant to share are two. First, Emily had been married before. Second, Kumail’s got a box of pictures of suitor women that his family had presented him with. This brings about a conversation on Kumail’s family. Emily still hadn’t met them after 6 months. Why? Well…

So the film kicks into a second gear, where Kumail carries a lot of the weight in navigating between his family and Emily’s parents. This handled with the same honesty the rest of the film has and it’s wonderful.

Kumail’s not the perfect Muslim. In fact, he’s about the same with his religion as I have occasionally felt in my travel through life.

When talking with Emily’s mother (brilliantly played by Hunter) she asks him how his parents met. He explains it was a blind date set up to a movie. She asks what movie they saw. That he didn’t know the movie his parents went to when they met says a lot about him. That Kumail realizes it and moves towards understanding shows even more. That this is a detail asked by a peripheral character says a lot about those who wrote it.

There are literally dozens of other avenues like this. Many things that resonate for people who’ve ever been disappointed by or risked disappointing their family. Compatibility is a thousand points that can match and one that hits awkwardly. Or maybe two…or a hundred.

It’s also being in a universe where you can’t imagine being together and somehow one thing just works.  It takes kindness, forgiveness and a willingness to listen. It’s pretty clear to me this film was created by people who know how to listen.

The performances, direction and writing are all exceptional. As much as one enjoys Hunter’s Beth, Shroff is excellent as Kumail’s mother, who is constantly interrupting dinner with “I wonder who that could be?” as she heads to open the front door to another possible suitor. Kher’s Azmat is a gentle and loving father, just like Romano’s Terry.  Kumail’s interactions with both are filled with such nuance, it feels right.

This feels like a Judd Apatow film. It’s got a few less rough edges, but it’s also not trying to be edgy. It’s just a story about a boy who meets a girl and everyone else they know is like everyone else we know.

Drive through still sucks, too.

(***** out of *****)

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (**) – Why build a miracle at all?

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – 2016

Director Zack Snyder
Screenplay Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer
Starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

“What goes up must come down.
What must rise must fall…
And what goes on in your life
Is writing on the wall!
If all things must fall,
Why build a miracle at all?…”

Alan Parsons Project, 1978

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not the colossal failure everyone wants to proclaim. It’s about as cumbersome as Batman’s suit during their second meeting with the weight of its self-importance. It forgets that there are two characters in the title. In terms of story, it unwinds like more a math problem. It feels like they tried to set up D.C.’s version of The Avengers in one big bloated carcass of a movie. Still, with all of that going against it, I believe it squeaks by as a film that is a passable, if not all that likable building block to a franchise. If this is The Phantom Menace, let’s hope The Justice League is not Attack of the Clones.

The thing about Zack Snyder is that I generally enjoy his view on the cinematic world. His movies are usually visual masterpieces that, while not perfect, are at least memorable. The Watchmen, still his best work, actually improved upon the comic for me by making the ending an existential question. His version of Dawn of the Dead is still the best zombie movie I have ever seen. Man of Steel is, until the last act, perhaps the best Superman film. Somehow he forgot that Kal El is supposed to lead the carnage away from civilization…and that smile on Clark Kent’s face just doesn’t jibe with so many people dead.

They barely let the credits roll when the decision was made to contort the sequel into this grab bag of scenes and pulpy carnage in Snyder’s estimation of the modern version of a D.C. story line. They conscientiously moved away from the reliable but admittedly routine chuckle a minute Marvel formula. They also moved away from moments of wonder that are best fed in moderation.

After yet another young Bruce Wayne tragic awakening scene, we get a segue into the climax of Man of Steel, with the big ship falling into the sky and Superman (Cavill) working over Zod’s soon to be corpse in the background. Bruce Wayne (Affleck) has decided to fly into Metropolis as…Bruce Wayne. In a helicopter. Even with those means, he lands the copter several blocks away and drives in, until the roads are, soon enough, impassible. Then he runs. Again, as Bruce Wayne. Why does he do this?  Because Batman might have gotten there and actually helped more people maybe?  Well probably not. The Earth itself is knocked all to hell. How is Batman going to do anything about that?  Don’t think too hard about it. They didn’t.

So Bruce Wayne lost some employees and one friend we never really get to know. That’s alright for this story, though. We lose Jimmy Olsen a few minutes later when he’s going undercover during a Lois Lane interview with a bad guy.  Superman kills the bad guy after he holds Lane hostage, but back in Gotham/Metropolis, Bruce/Batman is stewing. The world has mixed feelings about Batman, who has been operating for years. He’s taken to branding his victims lately. They also don’t know what to make of Superman. This means the two heroes find one another on the opposite side of the justice spectrum.

The writers go to some lengths to establish these feelings, but the inclusion of Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor makes a jumble of it. Luthor likely knows the identity of both when he brings them together at a party. Also at this party is Diana Prince (Gadot). We know who she is, but Bruce and Clark will not until they need her, later in the film.

Anyone who has seen even the second commercial knows what happens from this point, which made seeing it somewhat redundant. There are angles that work (Batman), some that are forced (Luthor) and some that rely too much on Lois being an investigator and not enough on her boyfriend.

For what is supposed to be a sequel, it feels more like Batman with a bunch of Superman’s supporting cast. The reason for them to battle (even in the comic) has always been a little too counter-intuitive to their supposed intelligence. Still, the fact that we do not spend more than a few frames contemplating alternate identities is a plus.

As before, Snyder puts way too much into the last act. They make some overt attempts to intimate that the battles are taking place away from populated areas, but…come on. These folks do more damage than Godzilla meeting King Kong. In the midst of this, we do get a nice, somewhat nuanced subplot with Wonder Woman that makes her upcoming movie feel more interesting than Captain America’s.

We get to see a a video collection of other “Meta humans” who have been tracked down in a method convenient to the Justice League plot, but nowhere near any sort of canon. Even more, the titular battle is halted for a reason that makes no sense. Perhaps though it is commonplace in the dark D.C. Universe for people to refer to a parent by their first name.

The film is dark. Oh Lord is it dark. It feels like we have a giant boot to the neck for most of the 2.5 hour running time. If they were going for serious, the settled for constant heart attack inducing stress. Why do we have to make this world so dark?  It’s okay to see amazing things without seeing several caskets roll by throughout the film.

Who do we blame?  Most of it belongs to Charles Roven and Team Snyder. This whole format is in their guiding hands for now. The story provided by Goyer and altered by Terrio feels piecemeal. Goyer is on the hook for the two Justice League films. The franchise feels like a deeper hole than even they were anticipating. Word has it that there are a series of re-shoots even this late in the game to Suicide Squad in order to brighten the tone, even just a little.

It’s not that I hate this film. It’s got some good, albeit disconnected moments. The task of entering the DC Universe mid-step means it will necessarily be different than the origin story heavy Marvel Universe. A used universe is fine with this reviewer. It just shouldn’t have to require one to watch Blade Runner to lighten the mood afterword.

(** out of *****)