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 *****)


Central Intelligence (**1/2): A measure of the Rock’s comedic flexing ability


Central Intelligence – 2016

Director Rawson Marshall Thurber
Screenplay Ike Barinholtz, David Stassen, Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Amy Ryan, Aaron Paul, Danielle Nicolet, Timothy John Smith, Megan Park, Ryan Hansen, Thomas Kretschmann, Phil Reeves, Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Kumail Nanjiani

If there are two actors in the universe making more movies than Samuel L. Jackson, they are Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. The range for Hart and Johnson may not be extreme, but they sure have the recipe for someone who is looking to forget about life for a while on a Friday night.

Johnson, aka WWE’s The Rock, has grown into an action movie icon. He’s got a large presence, but an astute self-awareness. There have been some bumps in the road and he’s taken some risks, but he’s been bankable if not award worthy.

Central Intelligence is a step in the right direction. We get a healthy dose of his action skills, but his comic timing is sharpened to the point where he’s actually funny. We’re not talking Arnold funny, either.

The story is about Robbie Wheirdicht (Johnson) and Calvin “Golden Jet” Joyner (Hart). In High School, Wheirdicht is (Johnson given a bad digital makeover) a fat dweeb. Inexplicably, he is caught singing in the shower while the rest of the school is at an assembly celebrating Calvin being the best High School student ever. Yeah, it’s not subtle, but it gets worse. While he’s accepting his award, he gets surprised by seeing Wheirdict’s naked body sliding across the floor. So Calvin covers Robbie with his massively decorated letterman’s jacket.

Cut to 20 years later. Calvin has a good job, but is dissatisfied with his life as he sees younger employees promoted over him. He is in the midst of one of his bouts of self-pity, about to decline an invitation to his High School reunion when he gets a friend request from a “Bob Stone,” on Facebook. Cutting to the chase, Bob is Robbie and he’s now a very studly CIA agent.

The story is no great shakes. Someone is on the lamb after losing his partner. For some reason, this plot needs Joyner as an accountant. Let me tell you a secret…there was no need for Joyner as an accountant.

Central Intelligence is at its best when it’s awkward. Hart is good as it gets these days when it comes to that. Johnson is even better. Playing against his manly stereotype places him atop the list of one note action heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Vin Diesel. It’s the first step towards better performances that no one else his size can approach.

Let’s be serious though. This isn’t mensa material. It’s a big dumb action comedy. There is nothing here as funny as Thurber’s Terry Tate, Office Linebacker and thank goodness there is nothing nearly as bad as We’re The Millers. It might get a few sequels, and that’s fine. I’m pretty sure I won’t remember one joke in 5 years, but I will smile when I think about it, just the same.

(**1/2 out of *****)