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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

 

Maudie

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Maudie

Maudie is a beautiful piece of art that offers the perfect alternative to summer blockbusters. Director Aisling Walsh took elements from the work of writer Sherry White and stirred them gently until the whole quite literally silenced the theater. The elements: two astonishing performances by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, stunning photography of the empty countryside, and the deep sensitivity of director Walsh.

Sally Hawkins’ Maude is a woman in her mid-thirties who carries the physical effects of early onset arthritis and an early childhood illness that left her with a stooped posture. Fragile she may be, but she is otherwise sharp, shy, and uncommonly stubborn. Her brother (Zachary Bennett) has left her in the care of her poisonous Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Desperate to escape, Maud presents herself at the ramshackle house of fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) in answer to his advertisement for a maid.

Their prickly relationship develops through ups and downs as Maud paints pictures of all the bits of nature she sees on her walks. Her flowers will cover the walls, the stair risers, mirrors and all paintable surfaces in their house. In a relationship rooted in need, neither is willing to change. He gives her shelter and she keeps it clean. She has the freedom to paint the world around her as she sees it. He has a clean house and the uncluttered time to sell fish and firewood.

The needy couple walks separately and sometimes together along miles of a dirt road to town for the few supplies they can afford. It is then that director Walsh works more magic. The two on that endless road are small dots against the majesty of the landscape (Nova Scotia, but filmed in Newfoundland). Walsh’s camera teaches us quietly that no one in this area has money or material things. The glory of the landscape is not theirs to enjoy but to survive. With her silent camera, she captures the stark nature of their relationship along with the poverty imposed by the vast landscape. She never teaches. She simply gives us the beauty of the story in the quietest way. We are watching the power of serious creativity.

When Maud’s paintings begin to sell while Everett takes over a bit of her housework, she says quietly: “we’re like a pair of old socks.” In the simplicity of their surroundings, the only change will be the tenderness that creeps into their lives. Otherwise nothing changes the fact that they deal in basic necessities and with whatever lies unexpressed in their heads on those long, long walks. Maud sees the golds, reds, and whites that will become her flower paintings, Everett can’t say anything right, but we know he has mellowed just a little.

We watch two fine actors who absorbed all the subtleties used by their director. Together the three took us to a faraway place both physically and emotionally, and it’s a place we will all remember.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Maudie
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:55
Rating : PG-13
Date : June 18, 2017