Jul 07

“The Big Sick”: A Rom-Com with True Issues

The movie’s so good…in part because of the degree to which it considers marriage not just as a relationship between two people but between two families. Alison Willmore, Buzzfeed, regarding The Big Sick

Michael Showalter‘s The Big Sick is receiving some of the best movie reviews of the year—but first, what’s with that title? Anthony Lane, New Yorker, notes that it’s “both a turnoff and a spoiler”:

You know at once that someone’s health, in the course of the movie, is going to collapse. The someone turns out to be Emily (Zoe Kazan), a student who goes to the hospital with such a serious infection that she is put into an induced coma. Word of her suffering reaches her ex-boyfriend Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), who hastens to visit her and, as the days crawl by, begins to reflect on how ex he wants to be.

Emily is studying psychology in graduate school when viewers first meet her, and the real-life Emily V. Gordon did become a therapist, eventually switching to writing. Another real-life thing: she winds up recovering from her health crisis and marrying comedian/actor/writer Kumail Nanjiani

And what about the illness Emily contracts in the film? Andrew Lapin, NPR: “…(T)he real Gordon has a rare autoimmune disorder called adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD), a form of arthritis that can (and does) shut down major organs in the body…The Big Sick is the first ‘hospital film’ in a while that makes us feel the stakes of a vicious mystery disease in our guts.”

As rom-coms go, it’s not typical. David Sims, The Atlantic: “The Big Sick resembles three great, swoony sitcoms mashed together: It’s a typical meet-cute (between Kumail and Emily), a nuanced generation-gap story (between Kumail and his parents), and, well, an extremely atypical meet-cute (between Kumail and Emily’s parents).”

Christy Lemire, rogerebert.com, describes Kumail’s family: “…devout Muslims who insist on arranging a marriage for him. His older brother, Naveed (Adeel Akhtar), already has a wife and seems content. His parents (Bollywood legend Anupam Kher and theater veteran Zenobia Shroff, both lovely) just want him to be happy—as long as he carries on their cultural traditions. Caught between Pakistani and American identities, between Islam and agnosticism, Kumail is unsure of who he is—but he knows he can’t tell his family about the white woman who’s become so important to him.”

Adds Lemire about Emily’s parents, they’re “the nerdy, down-to-Earth Terry (Ray Romano) and the feisty, no-nonsense Beth (Holly Hunter).” Who are not quick to warm up to Kumail. “(T)he way Nanjiani, Romano and Hunter navigate their characters’ daily highs and lows—and dance around each other—is simultaneously pitch perfect and consistently surprising. Romano is great in an unusual dramatic role, but Hunter is just a fierce force of nature, finding both the anger and the pathos in this frustrated, frightened mom.”

Supporting roles include friends in Kumail’s comedy world—Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, and Kurt Braunohler.

You can watch the trailer below:

Selected Reviews

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Love means having to say you’re sorry — early and often. That’s one of the truisms in ‘The Big Sick,’ a joyous, generous-hearted romantic comedy that, even as it veers into difficult terrain, insists that we just need to keep on laughing.”

Emily Yoshida, Vulture: “And even if you are already aware that things end up fine…there’s still plenty of reason to keep watching. That’s the thing: Even if The Big Sick risks being too long, or too gently lovable, it’s certainly welcome counterprogramming for a clobbering summer.”

Aug 08

“Ruby Sparks”: Writer’s Block Unhinged, Therapy Notwithstanding

A new indie film Ruby Sparks, starring young actors Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan, has kind of an unusual premise. From Fox Searchlight Pictures:

Calvin (Dano) is a young novelist who achieved phenomenal success early in his career but is now struggling with his writing – as well as his romantic life. Finally, he makes a breakthrough and creates a character named Ruby who inspires him. When Calvin finds Ruby (Kazan), in the flesh, sitting on his couch about a week later, he is completely flabbergasted that his words have turned into a living, breathing person.

Also interesting? Some of the connections between the creative folks involved, including that it’s the same team that directed Little Miss Sunshine, in which Dano played a sullen, non-speaking teenager. Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times, elaborates:

The film is about as meta as meta gets. Real-life couple Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan star as lovebirds Calvin (the writer) and Ruby (his dreamy dream girl). They are directed by another real-life couple, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, from a screenplay by Kazan, who had Dano in mind when she was writing. Love is definitely in the air, as well as under the microscope.

The Ruby Sparks trailer opens with Calvin consulting his shrink (Elliott Gould):

When I saw the preview in a theater, it wasn’t until the end that I felt intrigued—can this couple survive? If so, in what parallel universe?

Dana Stevens of Slate observes, “Both writing and love are a lot harder to do well than the ending of Ruby Sparks would have us believe. So is making a movie about them.”

One other enticing factor is that a therapist is involved. However, as it turns out, the shrink is unnecessary.

What about the film’s message? Roger Ebert: “If the film has a message, and I’m not sure it does, it may be: As long as you’re alive, you’re always in rewrite.”

Hmm. What do other critics think Ruby Sparks is about?

Stephen Whitty, The Star-Ledger: “…(I)ts about our unwillingness to accept someone as they are, our self-destructive fondness for falling in love with impossible ideals (and then trying to tinker, endlessly, with the people we do manage to end up with)…”

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “The theme of control in a relationship is an intriguing point of exploration. Can Calvin let go of his notions about who Ruby ought to be and allow her to flourish independently? Or will he alienate her with his need to manipulate?”

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “A movie about the power of the imagination really becomes a movie about a certain element of surrender – about the release of power – that is practically a requirement for loving somebody.”