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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

 

Beatriz at Dinner

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

Beatriz at Dinner

Beatriz at Dinner may not be perfect but it is rare and powerful in an unusual way and well worth seeing. Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a multidimensional physical and emotional healer from Mexico with medical training and a great big heart. She has driven north to a gated mansion in Newport Beach to massage the grateful mother of a former patient. When her car refuses to start as she leaves, Cathy (Connie Britton) summons a tow truck and invites Beatriz to stay for dinner with the arriving guests.

That’s our invitation to a culture clash that is by turns horrific, funny, and tense. Three couples – the wives dressed in perfect high heels and silk, the husbands in immaculate business suits – and Beatriz in blue jeans and an old shirt. Two couples are indebted for their lifestyles to Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), a powerful real estate magnate who delights in recounting his African hunting adventures. Beatriz, who respects all life whether it is human or animal, is stunned and lashes out.

The dinner had begun as a typical upper level social gathering with conversation rooted in travel stories and random incidentals – anything as long as it never leads to an exchange of ideas or serious talk of any kind. The clothes, the stories, and the experiences are just another subtle form of competition.

When Beatriz’s anger at Doug’s killing of an animal turns openly raw, the others cringe and puncture the silent embarrassment with a few labored comments here and there. But the battle is joined. Doug and Beatriz are front and center in a battle over nothing less than the value of life itself while the others sit in mortified silence. Beatriz erupts, “Doug, try healing something; destroy the source of the suffering.”

Writer Mike White has written a script full of unexpected words and actions and director Miguel Arteta has made sure it is all filmed with appropriate subtlety. In an age when wealth equals permission, Salma Hayek builds a case for a social code rooted in kindness and caring. When she is most upset, she turns Beatriz to stone and the film takes an unexpected turn.

John Lithgow does the nearly impossible in creating the real estate tycoon. Although he exercises his right to do and say things a rich successful businessman can do in a culture where money is king, he endows Doug Strutt with one quality that draws our interest. He listens to Beatriz and actually hears her. The man who dismissed her as a maid on first sight learns she is both smart and wise.

Writer, director, and the two lead actors carry the action throughout while their supporting players are fine at creating the grim essence of dinner conversation among men who have succeeded financially and the women who play the supporting roles in life and in the film. Watching Hayek and Lithgow tower above them in anger and despair is a movie lover’s dream.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Beatriz at Dinner
Word Count : 497
Running time : 1:23
Rating : R
Date : June 25, 2017

 

This review was posted on June 25, 2017, in Comedy.