Friday, June 23, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Big Sick

The Big Sick
Directed by Michael Showalter
Released June 23, 2017

Romantic comedies come in all different forms. Usually, things aren’t all that simple or they’re complicated by just one hurdle that just proves to be too big to get over. If that were readily apparent, there would be no reason to watch. Cultural clashes are a common obstacle that proves insurmountable to some, and what might begin as a joke doesn’t always end well if the parties involved can’t find a way around it. “The Big Sick” is a truly intelligent, warm, and winning example of exactly how to make a sweet, touching romantic comedy that excels on all fronts.

Kumail Nanjiani, a Pakistani-born actor best known for his starring roles on “Silicon Valley” and “Franklin and Bash,” plays himself, a stand-up comedian who isn’t all that well-known but is trying to make it in the comedy scene. He meets Emily (Zoe Kazan) when the grad student pipes up during one of his sets and the two begin a relationship. When it becomes clear that seriously dating a white woman won’t fly with Kumail’s family, their romance hits the brakes, but everything is thrown back in the air when Emily is in the hospital and falls into a coma, leaving a confused Kumail to sit at her bedside, developing a relationship with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) without her even knowing that her ex is with her almost every moment.

There isn’t another film much like this one, which has a remarkable honesty to it, portrayed so wonderfully in the simplicity of Kumail and Emily’s first meeting, where he informs her that even positive audience participation in a comic’s act is considered heckling. When things get serious, this film doesn’t lose any of its signature energy, and in fact becomes even more wonderful and sympathetic, with plenty of humor to be found even in moments that seem bleak.

For those who think Nanjiani belongs in the supporting cast, this film strongly suggests otherwise. In a story written by Nanjiani and his real-life wife, the Pakistani actor represents his heritage and the way it merges with American assimilation brilliantly, in a funny and loveable performance. Kazan is wondrous opposite him, and Hunter and Romano offer perfect support in their parts. This is easily one of the most uplifting and entertaining films of the year, easy for any audience to appreciate and enjoy.


Friday, June 9, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Hero

The Hero
Directed by Brett Haley
Released June 9, 2017

Many people have a distinguishing feature, something that sets them apart from others and makes them almost instantly familiar or recognizable. Someone who spends a good part of their time in the public eye is even likelier to possess this kind of trait, especially an actor who has performed many times in front of the camera. In the case of Lee Hayden (Sam Elliott), it’s not just one thing but rather two. The veteran actor is well-known for his low, booming voice that anyone listening finds mesmerizing, and his vocal impact is matched by the intensity of his facial hair, a thick mustache that frames his long face.

Lee is not a man who lives a terribly exciting life. After a lengthy career, the highlight of which was the title role in a Western film that lingers in his memory, Lee now has considerable trouble getting work. Most of his time is spent doing endless takes of commercials in which his voice helps to sell meat products, and his only friend is Jeremy (Nick Offerman), an old costar who has become his drug dealer. The discovery of detrimental news about his health coincides with a newfound relationship with a much younger stand-up comic, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), and a long-delayed attempt at rebuilding a fractured dynamic with his daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).

Elliott is a formidable actor who has been working regularly for the past three decades. This reviewer remembers him most fondly from his humorous recurring role as Eagleton Ron on “Parks and Recreation” and also appreciated his performance around the same time in a far more villainous role on “Justified.” At the age of 72, Elliott is perfectly primed for this kind of part, one that reflects back upon a career with some similarities to his own, though with a far more melancholy downturn. It’s a fantastic performance that should earn him well-deserved accolades.

Appearing alongside Elliott in this endearing comedic drama, Prepon, who now spends most of her time on “Orange is the New Black,” is an affirming foil. Offerman, offering typical comic relief, is a delight, and the typically excellent Ritter offers her best portrayal of resentment in a small role. Elliott’s real-life wife Katharine Ross appears as his ex-wife, adding a nice personal touch to a story that isn’t overwhelmingly original but still feels sincere and honest, bolstered by a tremendous lead performance.