REVIEW: The Big Sick

11 07 2017

I’m all about a good cross-cultural romantic comedy (I can probably recite every line of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” by heart), so “The Big Sick” was right up my alley to begin. Kumail Nanjiani’s true story ups the ante, though, by adding significantly greater dramatic stakes. An early dinner scene with his Pakistani family contains discussion of a relative who dared to marry outside the Muslim faith and have a mixed baby – “it’s like he’s dead,” someone says. “No one will visit.”

Despite half-heartedly entertaining his mother’s parade of eligible wives, Kumail (playing himself) falls for Zoe Kazan’s Emily after she gently heckles him during a stand-up set. She’s a stark contrast to the bland, eager-to-please Pakistani women, to say the least. Willing to push back on his requests and call out his good-natured mansplaining, Emily overwhelms him, as he does for her.

Like any relationship, Kumail and Emily’s faces setbacks … not the least of which being a mysterious illness that forces doctors to put her into a medically-induced coma. (With a chilling montage of Kumail walking through the hospital, director Michael Showalter immediately and effectively shifts the tone in a more somber direction.) This development puts him into contact with her parents, Ray Romano’s calmly neurotic Terry and Holly Hunter’s frazzled mama bear Beth, who do not exactly hold him in the highest regard. Over time, though, Kumail comes to learn from them and appreciate the geographic, cultural and gender hurdles they had to surmount to make their relationship work.

“The Big Sick” is not reinventing the wheel of the dramedy, but it’s still worth commending for a number of reasons. Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, his real wife (spoiler alert!), tell a story that’s specific and personal but never too precious. It’s distinctively theirs with a little something to offer all of us. And while a good chunk of the film deals with Kumail’s comedy career, Showalter’s camera is judicious. He knows the value of a quick reaction shot. The way he captures the full lay of the land in any given scene demonstrates how the non-verbal alchemy of an actor can enhance a great story beyond the words on a page. B+ /

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REVIEW: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

6 07 2016

Did we need a new “Wedding Crashers?” Serious question because I wouldn’t know if we do; my family stops it every time it plays on TBS and laughs all the way through to the finale. Over a decade later, it still has them cackling. (I have always been a little less sold, even from the beginning.)

Regardless of whether we need a new version of the film, we just got a Millennial-fied one in “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” Jake Szymanski’s raucous nuptial comedy replaces the successful thirty-something professionals with fresher, younger comedic blood in Zac Efron and Adam DeVine’s lovable yopro slacker brothers. Tied together by biology but living together supposedly still by choice, these hapless fools get a wake-up call from their family when told to curb their antics for the upcoming wedding of their sister.

Mike and Dave were the party crashers of family gatherings past but now must clean up their act with a classy broad on their arm to keep them in check. Rather than just showing up magically in the right place like John Beckwith and Jeremy Grey, they seek their magical connection in the classiest of fashions – the Internet. Mike and Dave’s destination date plea ends up in the lap of Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza). Semi-talented actresses, they respectively pass themselves off as a hedge fund manager by talking about Fannie Mae and Bernie Mac as well as a teacher from what feels like a schoolboys’ fantasy.

The film then takes off to Hawaii, where a dual “Step Brothers”-style dynamic takes place between each gendered camp. They all have hilarious internal bickering before attempting to put on a game face for all the guests. Then a further division of tracks appears in Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s script, one that oddly mirrors “Wedding Crashers” once again. Dave and Alice play into a sincere, honest romantic plotline, while Mike and Tatiana end up playing ribald, raunchy broad comedy surrounding her decision to withhold sexual contact.

“Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” unfolds quite pleasantly and hilariously because it breaks off its four talented leads in such a way and allows each to play to their strengths. Efron and Kendrick are the actors of the bunch, just as Devine and Plaza are the comedians. But the film might have benefitted from just going for broke and keeping the all-out humor throughout. “Neighbors 2” demonstrated Efron has the comedic chops to rival a giant like Seth Rogen, and practically every Anna Kendrick film role or press interview shows off her immense wit and charm. Their balls to the wall material, assuming it exists, could easily have functioned in the finished film – not just as deleted scenes on a Blu-Ray extra. B / 2halfstars





REVIEW: Hello, My Name Is Doris

19 03 2016

Hello My Name Is DorisAs a child, I got quite a bit of enjoyment from watching Sally Field’s face become animated with emotion – chiefly, in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” (That dinner scene. Priceless.) Michael Showalter’s “Hello, My Name Is Doris” recognizes her gift for telegraphing emotion and amplifies it. The problem is that he allows scarcely any of her considerable talents to shine through.

As Doris Miller, a quiet accountant and caregiver for her late mother, Field’s performance is half authentic emotion and half GIF-able moments. Whatever humanity might be in the script for Doris gets squandered by her overly burlesqued acting that turns the character into more of a joke than an object of our sympathy and affection.

After her mother’s funeral in the first scene, Doris’ attention can go in any number of directions. (Her brother and sister-in-law hope she will clear out all the items she hoards away.) She choose to invest her energy in pursuing a much younger co-worker, Max Greenfield’s John Fremont, for whom she has the hots. Far too often, his boyish good looks reduce her to little more than a fantasizing teenage girl. That’s not to say all women of a certain age on screen must conform to a narrow model of proscribed behavior, but she is the joke of the scene far more often than she is the heart of it.

The flimsiness of character’s personality is only hampered by the silly, cliche-riddled script of “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” Bonus points for not having the slightest idea of how Facebook works in 2016. Field deserves something better to work with for her first step into the leading woman spotlight in quite some time. C+2stars