The Big Sick

Posted on June 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Strong and explicit language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2017
Date Released to DVD: September 25, 2017
Copyright Amazon 2017

The more specific the story, the more universal. This is a very specific story. Indeed, you are unlikely ever again to see a romantic comedy with one of the pair spending half of the film in a coma. And that is not the couple’s biggest obstacle. Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), plays a character named Kumail Nanjiani in a story based on his relationship to Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan and called Emily Gardiner in the film), who is now his wife and the co-screenwriter of the smart, touching, heartfelt and very funny film. It is beautifully directed by Michael Showalter, as always unsurpassed in meticulous casting of even the smallest roles.

Real-life Nanjiani and his movie alter ego are Pakistani immigrants from traditional families. Every time he visits his parents for dinner, an unmarried Pakistani woman “happens to drop in.” They have made it very clear that they expect him to marry a woman who is Pakistani and Muslim. Gordon is neither; she is white and from North Carolina. Just after they break up because he could not say that they could have a future together, she suddenly becomes critically ill and is placed in a medically induced coma.  He gets the call when she is hospitalized and has to be the one to call her parents. He meets them for the first time in the hospital waiting room, where they are understandably frosty (he broke their daughter’s heart) and preoccupied (she’s in a coma).

They would rather that he not be there. And his parents find out that he has not been honest with them and they tell him they cannot accept his feelings for Emily. So, in the second half of the movie there is another kind of love story, about the love between parents and their children and the partners their children choose.

It is also a story about a man learning to be honest with himself about who he is and what he wants. What lifts this out of the recent glut of arrested development movies is its compassion for all parties (the film nicely acknowledges that Nanjiani’s brother has a very successful and satisfying marriage arranged the traditional way and presents as one of the candidates a woman so seemingly perfect for him that we almost root for her) and Nanjiani’s thoughtful, self-deprecating but confident performance. The best stand-up comics mine their own lives for material, with observations that make us see our own lives, and especially our follies and irrationalities, in sharper relief — that’s relief in both senses of the word.

Best of all, the movie itself is proof that they lived happily ever after.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, family conflict, and very serious illness.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Kumail tell Emily about his family’s concerns? How should you decide what traditions to keep and which ones to leave behind?

If you like this, try: “Ruby Sparks” (also with Kazan, who wrote the screenplay) and “50-50” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, also based on a true story

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Based on a true story Comedy Comedy Date movie Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Illness, Medicine, and Health Care movie review Movies -- Reviews Romance

Our Brand is Crisis

Posted on October 29, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers 2015

As we gear up for one of the most improbable and even outlandish Presidential campaigns in US history, we get a movie based on a real-life Presidential campaign in Bolivia, with imported American political consultants transplanting the media-savvy, scorched-earth, mud-slinging “expertise” that won elections in the US. What could go wrong?

The name of the film is “Our Brand is Crisis,” also the name of the 2006 documentary about what happened when James Carville, an architect of the Clinton campaign, went to Bolivia with his group of consultants and strategists to help elect the Bolivian-born, American-raised Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. Actually they went to help re-elect him. He had served as President from 1993-97. He was trying to regain the Presidency, and who better to help than the team who helped the young governor of Arkansas beat a sitting President, George H.W. Bush?

Sandra Bullock, taking a part based on Carville and originally written for George Clooney, plays a consultant known as “Calamity” Jane. She is burned out and living in a remote rural area when she gets a visit from two former colleagues.

Nell (Ann Dowd) and Ben (Anthony Mackie) want her for two reasons. First, she is good at what she does. Second, she is “disposable, expendable, and deniable.” If their candidate (named Castillo in this film and played by Joaquim de Almeida) wins, they get the glory. If he loses, they can blame “Calamity” Jane. Win win, and a good introduction to the small-p politics of the world of strategists and consultants who work on campaigns.

Jane is not interested, even though she needs the money, until she learns that Castillo’s opponent is being advised by her arch rival, Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thornton), a man who has been on the other side “three or four times” and beaten her “three or four times.” Much more interested in trouncing anyone Candy is advising than in any of the issues or the quality of the candidates, she agrees to fly to Bolivia, where she spends the first few days breathing oxygen from a tank and throwing up due to the altitude.

Finally she begins to wake up and her fiercely competitive spirit takes over. She brings in a secret weapon, a young woman with crackerjack online research skills known only as LeBlanc (Zoe Kazan), a sort of Lisbeth Salander who looks like a sophomore at Yale. And she starts barking orders, telling her candidate to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves and to turn toward the camera if he feels a tear in his eye. “We are the syringe that injects the people’s voice into your campaign,” she barks. He is so far behind in the polls that he has no alternative.

Jane’s short-term goal: to humanize her candidate, who is seen by the electorate as imperious and out of touch. Her medium term goal: to persuade the electorate that there is a crisis and only his experienced hand can guide them through. Her ultimate goal: complete annihilation of Pat Candy, with a side order of public humiliation.

The political sophistication of the screenplay is below the level of an AP history class, with a lot of scorched earth posturing and the inevitable idealistic youngster to provide contrast to all the superficial cynics. A reference to Adam Smith’s theory of the invisible hand is there for a gloss of political sophistication, but the aphorisms are tired (“If you fight with monsters for too long, you become a monster”) and the film is almost as cynical as its characters. The reason to see it is Bullock, who gives one of the best performances of the year, as complex, nuanced, savvy, and honest as the film would like to be. She’s got my vote.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, vulgar sexual references, smoking, drinking, and some violence including riots, tear gas, and guns.

Family discussion: Why did Jane take the job? What will she do next?

If you like this, try: the documentary of the same name that inspired this film and “No,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, based on the 1988 election in Chile

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Based on a true story Drama Politics

Contest: Win Free Passes to the Romantic Comedy “What If” with Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan

Posted on August 13, 2014 at 10:17 pm

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan star in this R-rated romantic comedy about a medical school dropout who meets a girl who could be the one — only to find himself relegated to the friend zone.  And I have five pairs of free tickets!  To enter, send me an email at with What If in the subject line and tell me your favorite movie romantic pair.  Don’t forget your address as I will be mailing you the tickets!  (US addresses only.)  I’ll pick the winners at random on August 18, 2014.  Good luck!!

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Contests and Giveaways Romance

Joss Whedon’s New Film is a Surprise VOD Release: In Your Eyes

Posted on April 21, 2014 at 8:01 am

Joss Whedon made a surprise announcement after the premiere of his new film, “In Your Eyes” at the Tribeca Film Festival. Instead of a theatrical release, it is immediately available through Video on Demand. Here’s the synopsis: In the frozen East Coast winter, Rebecca (Zoe Kazan) is withering away in a life of cocktail parties and lonely nights as the sheltered, soft-spoken wife of a successful doctor. Across the country in sun-drenched, arid New Mexico, charismatic ex-con Dylan (Michael Stahl-David) is struggling to find his footing and a fresh start. When these polar opposites realize they share an inexplicable connection, a unique metaphysical romance begins. It is written by Whedon and directed by Brin Hill.

EW has the opening scene. I think it is thrilling that a major director is experimenting with alternative distribution options and I hope a lot of Whedon fans take a look.

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Opening This Week

Trailer: The Pretty One with Zoe Kazan as Twins

Posted on January 19, 2014 at 3:56 pm

The trailer for Zoe Kazan’s new film “The Pretty One” has her playing a pair of identical twins.

The storyline reminds me of the classic Bette Davis film, “A Stolen Life.”

(Davis also played identical twins in another film, “Dead Ringer.”)

One of my all-time favorite Carol Burnett movie parodies was her version of “A Stolen Life,” called “A Swiped Life.”
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