Tag Archives: Michael Showalter

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.

“Hello, My Name is Doris”

LOUISA:   4 STARS    MATT:  4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Hello, My Name is Doris” is a delightful little film that should appeal to a wide range of audiences. It’s a pleasant, upbeat, easily accessible indie movie. The subject matter could’ve easily taken a turn and gone in the opposite, much darker direction, but director and co-writer Michael Showalter manages to keep the tone positive — and that positivity is contagious.

Sally Field plays the titular character Doris, an endearing crazy cat lady type who, at the advice of a slick motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher), decides to romantically pursue a much younger coworker John (Max Greenfield). Taking the mantra “I’m possible,” Doris enlists the help of her best friend’s teenage granddaughter (Isabella Acres, channeling a young Amy Schumer) and sets out to win John’s heart.

I know the premise sounds a bit groan-inducing, and it doesn’t help that misfit Doris is a textbook wacky-looking lonleyheart hoarder who wears a hairpiece and is decked out in ratty vintage clothing. Initially overlooked by her younger coworkers, Doris gradually sheds her office invisibility in a series of “Forrest Gump” style situations. (One of the best: after pretending to like the same band as the object of her affection, Doris attends a hip electronic show and is later invited backstage, which leads to a gig posing for an album cover).

Doris’ old-school style appeals to the younger city hipsters, and she soon finds herself embedded in their world and quickly adopted as their mascot. Somehow, Field manages to keep Doris eccentric and quirky without being coyly annoying (she’s someone you’d actually want to hang out with). Underneath all of Doris’ slightly neurotic exterior lies a complex sadness that’s handled with a thoughtful tenderness throughout the film. I especially loved the nice little riff on loneliness and shattered dreams (a weighty subject that’s addressed with care but never gets too serious).

The movie stumbles a bit from its uneven tone but recovers quickly. The story shifts between comedy and drama but eventually settles on unconventional comedy, which is what what keeps things working. The humor is very subjective but if you are familiar with or are a fan of director Showalter’s previous acting, writing and directing work (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “Stella,” “The Baxter” and my personal favorites, “Childrens Hospital” and “The State“), you’ll find more than a few hearty laughs. Not only is it funny, it’s also kindhearted and not one bit mean-spirited. It isn’t a game changer for the genre, but it’s enjoyable and it works.

There’s no doubt that Doris is a pitiful character, but the film doesn’t dwell on the anguish nor attempt to manipulate the audience in order to elicit pity. Instead, it revels in the celebration of the odd, the elderly, and finding the courage to realize that it’s never too late to grab life by the horns. We only live once, after all.

MATT SAYS:

Come sit next to me, pour yourself some tea — and I’ll tell you what I thought about “Hello, My Name is Doris.”

Doris (Sally Field) is a sixty-something accountant working in a New York clothing business who embodies the word “mousy.” A holdover employee from the company’s past, Doris is surrounded by people thirty- and forty-years her junior and doesn’t quite fit in. Doris serves her time at the office and at night goes back to the home she shares with her mother. When the movie opens, Doris’s mother has died, and Doris (who never married or found a partner) finds herself at a crossroads. She develops a crush on a handsome young executive at her company, discovers social media, and experiences a personal rebirth — much to the frustration of her lifelong friends Roz and Val (played by Tyne Daly and Caroline Aaron).

People see one thing when they look at Doris, and for most of her life she’s allowed herself to be defined by that. But everyone deserves the chance to reinvent themselves — no matter how late in life. Age is a state of mind, and “acting your age” is a useless phrase invented by people who themselves are afraid of change. Doris, on the other hand, pushes boundaries and defies expectations – most importantly, her own. There’s something admirable and inspiring about that, and we can all learn a lesson or two about pushing outside of the boxes that we have put ourselves in: it’s hard, and sometimes it can be painful, but taking risks and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zones can make our lives so much fuller.

While not (strictly speaking) a comedy, there’s lots of humor in “Hello, My Name is Doris,” but humor of a very specific kind. Even though we saw the film with a packed house, Louisa and I felt like we had to stifle our laughter at some point because no one else in the audience was laughing, to the point where we became incredibly self-conscious about it. Early in the movie, Doris and friends visit a motivational speaker filled with hilariously tired and empty platitudes disguised as deep wisdom – and she’s actually motivated by them. Later, she mingles with hipsters who talk endlessly about their artisanal, handmade, farm-to-table whatevers who see Doris’s making muffins from a premixed bag as transcendently different – Doris embodies the vintage lifestyle that they are so desperately trying to emulate. This stuff is comedy gold, but not in a the traditional sense. In other words, you have to have a very specific sense of humor to think this stuff is funny.

Sally Field perfectly portrays Doris, and her performance is easily the standout. Director Michael Showalter – he of sketch comedy fame – has a deft touch with the subject matter and captures the humanity of all of his characters, teasing out comedic moments without making fun of these people outright. While it’s far from perfect, “Hello, My Name is Doris” is what independent film is all about: fresh and inventive storytelling, created without the limits of focused-grouped rewrites designed to play to the largest audience possible.