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Their Finest

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Their Finest

With Their Finest, Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Sherfig have created a superb dream of a long ago time. Against the backdrop of England under attack in 1940, they show us the British living their daily lives calmly, interrupted repeatedly by air raid sirens that send them to underground shelter. At the center of it all is actor Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole who carries the story with absolute calm and sharp intelligence.

In this dark time of the German air raids, a group of writers gathers each day to make movies to aid the war effort. What can they do, they wonder aloud, to help lure America into the war at just the time when the battle of Dunkirk has told Britain they are not strong enough to win the war against the Nazis.

They will make a movie about Dunkirk. Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), the aging matinee idol whose ego grows more fragile in the face of anyone else’s success, is temperamental but determined. He and Buckley (Sam Claflin) hire Catrin (Gemma Arterton) to do secretarial jobs that will free them to write. Repeatedly, Catrin delivers several pages at a time that convince them she must be the main writer with Buckley.

Catrin upends the whole challenge by wanting to write about the roles women are playing in the war rather than focusing on heroes – “A lot of men are scared we won’t go back into our boxes when this is over” she says with great foresight. After the near catastrophe of Dunkirk, the challenge is how to lure America into the war. With 90 million Americans watching movies, she says, “we need a story to inspire a nation.”

Making their movie is the core of the plot but something much deeper than that sinks into those of us who are watching. We are silenced in admiration at their skill in creating time and place. Even the relationship developing between Carin and Buckley is minor next to the portrait they paint of London under daily bombings.

The moment the sirens start, Londoners leave homes and jobs quietly for their nearby shelters where they sit in silent acceptance until the all clear sends them back to work and home. We see the awful damage after each bombing and feel the impending loss of their country. We think again about Churchill’s prolonged visit to F.D.R. that was so key to America’s entry into the war. What would have happened without that visit?

This is a fine movie made compelling by texture. We feel the dark gray atmosphere, the silence created by fear, a capital destroyed by bombs, a leader determined to get help and a handful of sharp portraits of determination to survive. It stays with us because it is so quietly and carefully imagined by fine writers and actors and a director who knew exactly how to salute the quiet bravery of a city under attack more than seventy years ago.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Their Finest
Word Count : 498
Running time : 1:50
Rating : R
Date : August 13, 2017

 

The Big Sick

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Big Sick

Don’t miss The Big Sick. It isn’t often that writers, director, and a large cast blend to create a story that spreads through audiences with an escalating sense of affection for all the players. Writers Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani who are married in real life have created a screenplay rooted in their own story. It’s a good one.

Pakistani Kumail (himself) and Midwestern Emily (Zoe Kazan) meet in the nightclub where Kumail is trying to make it as a standup comedian. After Emily fires a comment at him from the audience, they alternate between living together and living their old lives which for Kumail means frequent visits to his strong family. His mother (Zenobia Schroff) follows custom by inviting a series of beautiful, smart Pakistani women for dinner to ensure that Kumail will marry one of them. His dad (Anupam Kher) is imperious – for a while.

Wonderful complexity sets in when Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) come east to take care of their daughter when she is hospitalized. Who is this Pakistani man who is so close to their daughter? And so we have two strong families who love their adult children and one whose culture demands marriage within.

Kumail is loyal and loving to his family but firm in his determination to become a real part of his new country. He will love his old roots right along with the new ones he is sinking. Imagine the fun of this emotional landscape. There are no bad guys, just differing cultural commands. We end up rooting for everyone, and the reason it works is that in this cast of many nationalities, each actor has a winning, quirky appeal. What fun, no villains. While all this is going on, we are laughing, empathizing, and enjoying their various roadblocks.

Zoe Kazan’s Emily is smart and salty, an irresistible life partner for our standup comedian. Though she’s onscreen for a short time, she’s so good she becomes the focus of the plot. Holly Hunter is eccentric and perfect as Emily’s mom. She measures everyone in her daughter’s life by whether they deserve to be there. Kumail Nanjiani who co-wrote with his real life wife and plays Kumail, is unforgettable. In a complex role of comedian/lover/ family loyalist, he is absolutely convincing – and lovable.

Director Michael Showalter manages both cast and circumstance with grace. How can he generate suspense and curiosity without any villains? Under his hand it happens naturally as the actors become indistinguishable from their characters. He is dealing with a rigid Pakistani family, a standup comic culture, and two terrific leads.

There’s no need here for manufactured conflicts. The cultural differences are a perfect playing field. In this large group of actors from different backgrounds, every one of them helps to lead us through several cultures, and not one of them turns out to be mean. Look forward to feeling yourself slip into gentle appreciation, and laughter.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Big Sick
Word Count : 498
Running time : 2:00
Rating : R
Date : 9 June 2017