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.

“Ice Age: Collision Course”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The fifth film in the prehistoric animated franchise, “Ice Age: Collision Course,” may feel a little stale but it’s still an enjoyable movie. There’s plenty for kids and adults alike to appreciate. It’s funny, heartwarming, and beautifully directed by Mike Thurmeier and Galen Chu. It’s not something that will change the face of cinema but it’s far better than the usual throwaway animated junk that Hollywood frequently churns out.

The formula may be the same (our beloved animal heroes once again set out on an adventure, this time to save themselves from a giant incoming meteor) but the movie somehow manages to still feel original. In a brilliant move by the filmmakers, there’s quite a bit of screen time devoted to the silly, accident prone squirrel Scrat. (Seriously, it’s time for Scrat to get his own movie)! As with the previous films, “Collision Course” features brief snippets of several subplots interspersed with Scrat’s slapstick antics.

Woolly mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) are struggling with their daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer) growing up, getting married to the goofy Julian (Adam DeVine) and leaving home. Manny’s best friends are back too: Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) continues his quest for true love and saber tooth tiger Diego (Denis Leary) is as wise and grumpy as ever. I was thrilled to see Granny (Wanda Sykes) back with a larger role; she’s easily the funniest of the bunch. The gang teams up with erratic one-eyed weasel Buck (Simon Pegg) for help saving the planet.

The voice talent rages from brilliant (Sykes and Leguizamo) to good (DeVine and Pegg) to barely acceptable (Latifah and Romano) to downright irritating (Jesse Tyler Ferguson‘s lame shtick as the Shangri-Llama is neither funny nor original, and Palmer is simply awful). Other actors lending their voices include Jennifer Lopez as Shira, Jessie J as Brooke (a gorgeously animated new character that’s sure to be a hit with little girls everywhere) and Nick Offerman as Gavin (the only supporting voice actor whose performance is so strong that he doesn’t get lost in the background).

The movie has a slightly smart, slightly scientific plot and message. This film isn’t even close to being as brainless as the studio’s marketing campaign would lead you to believe. The science is ludicrous of course, but at least astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson shows up for a tongue-in-cheek ‘explanation’ (as Neil deBuck Weasel). It’s enough to make inquisitive kids go home and pick up a book or Google the scenarios that are presented. Overall the movie’s message values science and learning over ignorance, and we should all get behind that.

That’s not to say that this movie isn’t stuffed with stupidity, but at least it’s not overly stupid. Yes, there’s plenty of lowbrow bathroom humor; yes, there’s a substantial amount of modern lingo sass-talking; yes, the obnoxious possums Crash and Eddie (voiced by Seann William Scott and Josh Peck) are back with groan-inducing flamboyance. But the core characters are so likeable and the animation so skilled that it’s easy to overlook the film’s flaws.


Matt was unavailable for review.

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