“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!

“Top of the Lake”–A Top Notch Thriller

While some cable and television distributors fund their own productions (note the excellence of  “House of Cards”, the final season of “Damages”, and the forthcoming “Arrested Development”), Sundance is in the enviable position of previewing thousands of entries for their annual Sundance Festival. “Top of the Lake“is an exciting option from the Sundance Channel, created by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion (who produced and directed the Academy Award winner “The Piano”).

The first episode opens with the disappearance of a 12-year old pregnant girl, Tui, in a remote backwater town in southern New Zealand named Laketop.  The hamlet of Laketop is as much a character in the series as are the main actors.  Laketop seethes with brutal violence, fear and bigoted townspeople, with a history of brutal rapes and missing young girls.  And the plot takes the viewer down slowly as it sinks into this corner of the world which has no place for outsiders, even residents who have moved away and returned.

Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss of  Peggy Olsen fame in “Mad Men”) is  one such former resident.  A furloughed investigator, home to visit her dying mother, Robin  does not want to be in Laketop.   No one else, including her mother, wants her there either.

The incestuous pathology of the townspeople and their dangerous secrets are slowly revealed through seven episodes. Magnificent scenery obscures a cesspool of corruption and brutality. Tui is always the undercurrent that keeps you on the edge of your seat, shocked by her heartbreaking situation.  Brilliant acting with raw emotional nakedness at every turn results in some explosive surprises throughout.

“Top of the Lake” is a remarkable thriller, in some ways similar to the excellent “The Killing”, set in the northwest.  While there is an original storyline in the pre-teen who is at the center of the investigation, “Top of the Lake” has two stories which do not always integrate as well as they could have.  The Paradise commune–a recovery group of middle-aged women with their hippie guru GJ (Holly Hunter)–offers comic relief and some insightful observations that could not have been presented easily in another way.  However, GJ seems wasted in the last episodes and could have been a catalyst for the solving of the crime.  Consequently, there isn’t the dramatic liftoff the narrative should give us.

Nonetheless, I really recommend this as a binge-viewing weekend excursion (available through Netflix).  Enter a dark, sinister world full of menace and deception. The bravery of the women is inspirational and the dramatic energy of a Campion production is a wonder to behold.