“The Big Sick”–A Prescription for Love

The Big Sick is a winner. One of my favorite movies this year! It just may be the breakout comedy of 2017 as well.

Romance, cultural conflict, things unsaid–based on a true story, The Big Sick takes on the theme of how family bonds can break when their adult children’s relationships are not what the parents wish for. The Big Sick raises the question: What’s more important– your significant other or your family? Tackling complex issues of family obligation, The Big Sick also infuses humor and grace in much of the witty and well-written dialogue.

The central character is Kumail (played by Kumail Nanjiani of “Silicon Valley”), a Pakistani-born stand-up comedian struggling to become successful as he works part-time as an Uber driver while waiting to be discovered in a Chicago comedy club. In the audience is a psychology grad student, Emily Gardner, who is seemingly “white bread”. They begin a relationship, but seem not to be fully committed.

Will Emily’s parents have as much difficulty accepting Kumail as his parents have difficulty accepting Emily? The twists are surprising and unexpected. Kumail finds himself forced to decide between pleasing his parents who desire to arrange a marriage with a Pakistani girl or accepting his feelings towards Emily. The young couple’s situation spins out of control when Emily becomes extremely ill and Kumail has to deal with her parents.

Kumail is caught in a maelstrom of competing worlds: different cultural backgrounds and traditions, difficulties of interracial relationships and Islamophobia, sometimes unconscious but always hurtful. Kumail’s overbearing, loving family means well and so does Emily’s.   This makes The Big Sick no garden variety rom-com, but a refreshing comedy drama which confronts social and political controversies head on.

The script manages to balance the serious and the comedic without resorting to a hint of sentimentality. Emily (Zoe Kazan), Emily’s mother (Holly Hunter) and her dad (Ray Romano) and Kumail’s parents– Anupam Kher as the father and Zenobia Shroff as the mother– are all lovable, well-intentioned, and deeply flawed. The mothers especially tear up the screen with their fierce performances. The entire ensemble cast–including minor family members and friends–are simply extraodinary.

You will laugh, you will be close to tears and you might engage in own introspection after watching The Big Sick. Brilliantly written and beautifully acted, this one is from the heart. It works so successfully on many different levels and that is a rare achievement, especially for comedy, which in my opinion, is the most difficult to write.

You have to see this one!

Beauty and the Beast – Be Our Guest

Beauty and the Beast movieIn this 2017 live action remake from the 1991 animated film, both by Walt Disney Pictures, we see the familiar and delightful eighteenth-century fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.   Beauty and the Beast grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of 2017 and the 10th highest-grossing film of all time.

The cast for this “tale as old as time” is a dream one:  Emma Watson (“Hermione” from the Harry Potter films), Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”), the outstanding veterans Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson and the luminous voice and talent of Audra McDonald.

Of all the new additions to this version of Beauty and the Beast, Emma Watson as Belle gives a winning performance as the intelligent, strong-willed, book-loving beauty, and has a surprisingly charming clear singing voice.  The Beast is so camouflaged, it is a shock when he is revealed as Dan Stevens after the curse is lifted.  (Liam Neeson would have been expected instead.)  And the other animated characters (a singing candelabra, tea pot, clock, clattering armoire, and a harpsichord) are humorous to behold as they appear as Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci respectively.

Beauty and the Beast is sheer enchantment with exquisite costumes, a few new songs, visuals and cinematography to support the  outstanding ensemble cast. Seeing the “Be Our Guest” musical scene in the large dining room has almost inconceivable CGI effects. How did they produce the details so seamlessly?  They are flat-out amazing and impeccably match the animated version with dancing candelabra, feathers, dishes, and a kaleidoscopic collage of all elements from the dinner table.

For the integration  of animated and live action scenes, this is a must for film buffs.

Note:  The realistic scenes of battle and mob psychology may be too frightening for those under eight years old, depending upon the child.  For adults, the disturbing mob will seem unsettling and unfortunately all too familiar.

Wind River — Chilling and Icy, Drifting in the Snow

Wind River movieA tense police procedural and neo-Western, Wind River opens on an icy, moonlit, Wyoming landscape. Writer, producer and director, Taylor Sheridan (the 2016 Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water as well as Sicario) has created another winner.

A terrified Native American teenage girl is running in the snow, barefoot and bleeding.  She falls face down, gets up, and runs for six miles before dying from blood filling her lungs.  That chilling scene is the opening scene in the true story of Wind River.

On the Wind River Arapaho Reservation we see the main character, Cory (played by Jeremy Renner), barely visible in his white camouflage gear tracking predators in glaring, snow-blinding bright sun. As a US Fish and Wildlife agent on the reservation, the last dead body he expects to find is that of a young woman.  He tracks wolves and mountain lions.   The lethal cold of Wyoming and the barren natural beauty of its landscape stand in stark contrast to each other:  a dangerous and forlorn but beautiful wilderness.

Cory is a man of few words and enormous pain. After losing a teenage daughter himself, he is now estranged from his Native American wife (Julia Jones) but remains devoted to both her and their son, Casey (Teo Briones).

FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson from “Ingrid Goes West” ) flies in from Las Vegas in a severe snow storm to investigate the suspicious death. Sheriff Ben (the astonishing Graham Greene of “Dances with Wolves” and The Green Mile”) must arrange for Jane to  borrow winter clothes from one of the local Arapaho women. Jane soon becomes a quick-study in the harsh life on the reservation.

Wind River paints a searing picture of life on society’s margins. Renner and Olsen’s characters both realize that the sense of loss due to a young girl’s death is not the only loss.  The cycle of hopelessness and poverty desperately pile up, deep as snow drifts. Outsiders who exploit the natural resources on the reservation and the Arapaho, who feel trapped, reveal a part of society that has long since been forgotten, sometimes willfully so.

Life is tough and the people even tougher.  The characters are flawed but relatable. However, a fuller backstory could have created a  beating heart to Wind River that would have contributed to the whodunit plot.  As a  suspense thriller, the violence, revenge, and clues gear the reader for the inevitable dispensing of a frontier “cowboy” justice. It’s a harrowing movie to watch, especially the flashback to the crime itself, but a number of plot holes keep the ending from being entirely convincing or satisfying.  I still recommend this film for its  exposure to life on a  reservation and the tragedies that remain unreported.

Note:  At the end of Wind River, there is a note that thousands of Native American women go missing with no reporting or statistics maintained:  “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.”  Other research shows that the murder rate for Native American women is estimated to be as much as ten times the national average.