Skip to main content

I actually am a terrorist. I just do standup on the side to keep a low profile.

The Big Sick
(2017)

(SPOILERS) The Big Sick wasn’t the big hit many expected. Tipped as a summer sleeper, it merely performed respectably (on a low budget, so that was okay). But then, with a title suggesting the worst excesses of now passé gross-out comedy, what did Amazon and Lionsgate (who picked it up following Sundance) expect? It isn’t that at all – by which I mean, vomit-related –  of course, and is in fact a rather sweet culture-clash comedy with a you-couldn’t make it up coma thrown in – the actual big sick –  based on the experiences of comedian Kumail Nanjiani in dating his wife to be (Emily V Gordon).


When I say it’s sweet, though, I mean The Big Sick’s inoffensive (even when dealing with racism aimed at Kumail, playing himself), and amiable, likeable and unassuming. It entirely reflects Nanjiani’s personality, basically, which doesn’t make for the most vital or responsive viewing experience. Nanjiani is dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), but they break up when she discovers he hasn’t told his unreceptive family he’s dating a white girl, and that he can’t see a long-term prospect for them for this reason. Despite this, when she becomes seriously ill a few weeks later (eventually diagnosed as a complication resulting from Still’s Disease), he ends up signing the permission form to induce a coma and it’s at the hospital that he meets her parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). As a consequence, much of the movie doesn’t even feature Kazan, revolving instead around the growing bond through trauma between those closest to her.


On that level, the movie works; the setup is sufficiently different that you’re intrigued to see how this unfolds, and Hunter and Romano make for an effective chalk-and-cheese pairing, she fiery and outspoken, he weary and reserved. Where the movie stumbles is in averring to the Judd Apatow formula, minus his trademark gross-out – he’s a producer, although how he finds the time between self-righteous tweets is beyond me – right down to an unnecessarily excessive running time (two hours is not the ideal for a comedy, but his pictures are often well over that limit).


Apatow frequently favours the autobiographical, something that has rarely paid dividends creatively – Funny People, This is 40 – inevitably involving depicting comedians as comedians, which again, unless you’re Jerry Seinfeld, isn’t always such a good idea, nursing the danger of coming across as hubristic (it may work for Stephen King or – once upon a time, when he was both acting in his pictures and less controversial – Woody Allen to give their protagonists the skillset they have, but it can be overly inclusive and off-putting to an audience, as if everything revolves around them. As such, the stand-up element of The Big Sick is merely okay.


Nanjiani is a reactive personality, which suits the story, but in terms of range he isn’t so effective when called upon to emote (for example, becoming enraged at the burger joint, or pleading with Emily’s parents not to move her to another hospital). That’s fine – a lot of comedians aren’t – but it does mean that the romance side is also very low key. The interactions with his family, though, while familiar from other wry depictions of traditional Muslim parenting, consistently spark thanks to the performances of Anupam Kher (as his father Azmat), Zenobia Shroff (mother Sharmeen) and Adeel Akhtar (brother Naveed).


Hunter scores for a scene where she launches into a racist heckler, as Nanjiani attempts to carry on with his act regardless, while Romano’s deadpan (“If you feel a coma coming on, just call us”) has an authenticity that Nanjiani, peppering his dialogue with “bits” doesn’t quite grasp yet. Kazan’s very likeable, when she’s actually conscious. But that’s The Big Sick. It’s likeable, good-natured and pleasant, but nothing more than that. You wouldn’t instantly deduce it as a contender for Best Original Screenplay Oscar.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.