“Fist Fight”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Fist Fight” is one of those movies that’s not exactly great, not exactly awful, but settles comfortably in the “just good enough” category like a straight “C” student. It’s a little lazy in its storytelling and bouts of crude sexual comedy, but the movie tries really hard — making it good for more than a few hearty laughs from the comedic strengths of its two remarkably charismatic leads.

When tough history teacher Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) accuses mousy English teacher Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) of getting him fired on the last day of school, he challenges the man to an old fashioned fist fight in the parking lot after school. It’s “Three O’Clock High” but with teachers and a Millennial social media sensibility (#teacherfight).

There are some really funny moments leading up to the big brawl, courtesy of a menagerie of eccentric colleagues. There’s an oddball coach (Tracy Morgan), stressed out principal (Dean Norris), indifferent security guard (Kumail Nanjiani), unhinged French teacher (Christina Hendricks), and a wayward and wildly inappropriate guidance counselor (the scene-stealing Jillian Bell with her dry, deadpan style on full, glorious display here).

Teachers in particular will probably get a real kick out of this one because there are loads of educator jokes that are universally funny but will take on an extra special meaning to those in the profession. Yes, we do eventually get to see the final showdown but with all its talk of violence and promises of bloodshed, the film has a sweet (and pro-education) ending.

No doubt this film could’ve been funnier, especially with such a simple yet amusing premise, but its high points are entertaining and amusing enough for a mild recommendation.

Sundance Review: “The Big Sick”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

There are certain movies that are so intensely personal, so fiercely credible that there’s no question they are based on true stories. “The Big Sick” is one of those films that lives and breathes authenticity. It feels authentic because it is authentic.

The story is based on the real life relationship between Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani and his girlfriend (now wife), Emily Gordon. The couple wrote the screenplay together and there’s an enormous feeling of tenderness surrounding the entire project. The story starts out with your average indie film meet cute at a comedy club but then gradually shifts its tone into a serious drama when, after a break up, Emily winds up in the hospital in a medically induced coma, fighting for her life. The film is a beautiful, accurate representation of unwavering love and devotion through a health crisis — among other things. The movie touches on everything from the day-to-day life of a young standup comedian to the cultural pressures of submitting to an arranged marriage simply because it’s a family tradition.

Nanjiani plays himself while the off-putting and quirky Zoe Kazan steps into the role of Emily. Neither of these actors are especially appealing to begin with (and their onscreen chemistry is far from believable here), but both do their best to sell the story — and it’s nearly impossible not to respond to their overall spunk and charm. The film’s standout performance comes from Holly Hunter as Emily’s stressed out mother. Hunter makes it look naturally effortless to create a character who is not only dealing with her daughter’s life-threatening illness but also coping with a cheating husband (Ray Romano), all while remaining a fired up and outspoken firecracker of a woman (the scene where she heckles a racist heckler at a comedy club will bring the house down). Romano deserves accolades too; he gives a subtle, convincing performance that balances humor with compassion.

The film is a little too long, with the first half taking a while to set things in motion. The second half dominates with the best part of the story, however. Once Emily ends up in the hospital, the movie shifts its focus to exploring the budding relationship between Kumail and her parents. Kumail is bonding with his ex-girlfriend’s family while at the same time his own family is disowning him for dating a white woman. This is where you have to appreciate and acknowledge that there’s some great original (and immensely credible) writing in this movie.

“The Big Sick” is heartfelt and heartwarming rather than snarky and sarcastic, which might shock many of director Michael Showalter‘s longtime fans (especially considering the tone of previous material Showalter has written, directed and starred in). The film has a similar feel to his 2016 film “Hello, My Name is Doris,” but it’s more of a non-offensive, crowd pleasing dramedy that isn’t too much of a challenge for your standard film festival audiences. While this is indie film 101, I think it may lack a universal appeal that will resonate with multiplex audiences (I can practically see the mis-marketed ad campaign now: “see the outrageous new laugh-a-minute comedy from powerhouse producer Judd Apatow!“).

Luckily there’s an overwhelming amount of tenderness surrounding the entire project, and the abrupt shifts in tone is kept together by charming wit and kind hearted humor. This one will give you the cinematic warm fuzzies.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.