The Big Sick

For F*** Magazine

THE BIG SICK 

Director : Michael Showalter
Cast : Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, David Alan Grier
Genre : Comedy/Romanc
Run Time : 2h
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language and Some Sexual References)

Many couples have probably thought to themselves, “say, our courtship would make a great movie”. Comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon thought this, and they were right.

In The Big Sick, Nanjiani plays himself, a Chicago-based stand-up comic from a Pakistani immigrant family. Kumail’s mother Sharmeen (Shroff) has been trying to arrange a marriage for him, setting him up with as many eligible Pakistani-American women as she can find. Emily Gardner (Kazan) is in the audience at a show in which Kumail is one of the performers, and they hit it off. However, Kumail knows that he will be disowned by his family if they find out he is dating a white, non-Muslim woman. Several weeks into their relationship, Emily is struck by a mysterious illness, and is placed in a medically-induced coma. Her parents Beth (Hunter) and Terry (Romano) arrive from North Carolina to care for her, and while things between them and Kumail are awkward at first, they begin to bond over their mutual care for Emily’s well-being. In the meantime, Kumail hopes to impress a talent scout who is selecting comics to perform in the esteemed Montreal Comedy Festival, but Emily’s circumstances throw him off his game, forcing him to re-evaluate his priorities while he confronts the traditions that he feels bound by.

This romantic comedy-drama is co-written by Nanjiani and Gordon, starring Nanjiani as himself, re-enacting his own love story. This might sound like a vanity project on the surface, but The Big Sick doesn’t feel like one at all. Even if it is a vanity project, it’s the kind we need right now. While made with a niche audience in mind, The Big Sick has gained overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth and has become a critical and commercial success. Key to its success is that this a film that bleeds authenticity. Sure, as with any movie based on a true story, artistic licenses were taken, but at no point that this feel glossy and artificial, nor does the film seem like it’s straining to convince us of its realness. As cliché as it sounds, all of it comes from the heart. Profoundly moving and disarmingly raw, director Michael Showalter packages Nanjiani and Gordon’s shared experiences without them seeming packaged in any way.

This is a comedy first and foremost, and on that front The Big Sick is a gut-busting triumph. Little touches like Nanjiani’s abiding love for The X-Files add nice textural elements – the episode “One Breath”, in which Mulder tries to save Scully from a coma, was a major inspiration for this film. Stand-up comics like Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant fill supporting roles as Kumail’s fellow comedy club performers, sometimes sarcastic but never unbearably smug. At no point does The Big Sick feel smug or ‘funnier than thou’, as movies about comedy with the creative involvement of professional comics are wont to be. Best of all, the tricky tonal balances are executed with a master’s touch. The film makes no hard-left turns into dramatic territory, and when it gets serious, it never blindsides the audience. The subjects of medical emergencies, the prejudices faced by South Asians and other immigrants in the United States, and the prospect of being exiled from one’s family because of whom one chooses to love are not inherently funny. The Big Sick’s treatment of these issues provokes thought without feeling inorganic or like it’s forcing the audience into an uncomfortable spot. The comedy does not undercut or overpower the film’s depth or sincerity.

One could say that Kumail Nanjiani was the role Kumail Nanjiani was born to play. Nanjiani is earnestly dorky, yet charming and altogether endearing, without ever feeling like he’s over-amplifying aspects of himself. He shares sparkling chemistry with Kazan, who is eminently likeable and showcases a range of the most adorable facial expressions. There are conflicts and misunderstandings, but they never feel like stock rom-com contrivances. Emily is in a coma for most of the film’s running time, but Kazan makes her presence felt and the relationship between Kumail and Emily is one of the easiest to root for in all of romantic comedy film history.

 

Kumail’s family does feel a little exaggerated for comedic effect, but they are never the butt of the joke. Given all that Nanjiani has been through, the portrayal of Kumail’s father Azmat (Kher), mother Sharmeen, brother Naveed (Akhtar) and sister-in-law Fatima (Shenaz Treasury) is markedly sympathetic. Kumail might feel stifled by the traditions and worldview upheld by his family, but that doesn’t mean he loves them any less.

Romano and Hunter are impeccably cast as Emily’s parents. Romano brings his trademark slightly beleaguered, Dad joke-spouting everyman persona to bear, but also provides some of the film’s most honest emotion. Hunter’s fiery, no-nonsense Beth is a force to be reckoned with, and the way she eventually warms towards Kumail feels natural and earned. Having a daughter in a coma is an emotionally-exhausting experience, and Terry and Beth are shown warts and all – but then again, so is every character in The Big Sick, a key ingredient in its authenticity.

“Absolutely devastating” is not necessarily the description one would use for a comedy – but The Big Sick is absolutely devastating in the best way. In telling a love story through a unique perspective, skilfully folding in social issues and wrapping all this in bracing, disarming humour, The Big Sick is essential viewing.

Summary: Deeply personal, authentic, warm, heart-rending and immensely funny, The Big Sick will cause fits of laughter and uncontrollable sobbing without feeling incongruous, manipulative or self-indulgent.

RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Our Brand is Crisis

For F*** Magazine

OUR BRAND IS CRISIS

Director : David Gordon Green
Cast : Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Joaquim de Almeida, Zoe Kazan, Reynaldo Pacheco
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 108 mins
Opens : 14 January 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Some Coarse Language)

On the electoral battlefield, only best-prepared campaign can emerge victorious. Political consultant Jane Bodine (Bullock) knows that the right campaign can turn even the unlikeliest candidate into a winner. Bodine is pulled out of retirement to manage the campaign of Pedro Castillo (de Almeida), an unpopular candidate running for the presidency of Bolivia. Together with her team Rich (McNairy), Ben (Mackie), Nell (Dowd) and LeBlanc (Kazan), Bodine has to yank Castillo’s polling numbers out of the abyss. Rivera (Louis Arcella), the candidate who is leading in the polls, has hired Pat Candy (Thornton) as his campaign manager. Candy and Bodine have a long, contentious professional rivalry and the desire to beat Candy spurs Bodine on as she rallies to get the Bolivian public on Castillo’s side. In the meantime, she befriends Eduardo (Pacheco), an idealistic young volunteer for Castillo’s campaign, endeavouring to better understand the situation on the ground.

            Our Brand is Crisis is an adaptation of the 2005 documentary of the same name. Directed by Rachel Boynton, the documentary recounted the role the Greenberg Carville Shrum political consultancy firm played in the 2002 Bolivian presidential elections. In the hands of director David Gordon Green and screenwriter Peter Straughan, the fictionalised account is a satirical comedy-drama.


This is an expectedly cynical work, built on the reality that political campaigns are basically branding exercises and that focus groups and demographic testing far outweigh the actual needs and concerns of the voting public. The humour is a way to make this more palatable, but it is hit and miss, resulting in a degree of tonal inconsistency. The out-and-out comedic set pieces, including stubborn llamas, a politician giving a speech from the back of a train and a bus chase that recalls Bullock’s Speed days, feel at odds with the bleakness of the entire political landscape. This approach sacrifices some depth, and Our Brand is Crisis is also guilty of deriving comedy from elements that are foreign to American audiences, which can be seen as insensitive. On top of all this, there’s a liberal sprinkling of pithy maxims, with Jane quoting from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

It’s a good thing then that star Bullock is there to hold it all together. The Jane Bodine character plays to all of Bullocks’ strength as a performer, with her dogged determination, suffer-no-fools attitude and the aspect of being a fish out of water. The character is an astute, aggressive go-getter and there are a number of shades for Bullock to play. The role was originally intended for a man, and then rewritten with Bullock in mind. The most intriguing parts of the film showcase the push and pull dynamic between strategist and candidate. De Almeida has mostly played villainous roles in American projects, and Castillo’s inherent unlikeability hammers home the point that Bodine is there to get a job done and not to ensure the “good guys” save the day.

The “bitter rivals” component with the comic one-upmanship that results from it feels like a largely superfluous attempt to make the story more engaging, with Thornton’s Candy coming off as little more than a moustache-twirling villain. McNairy, Mackie, Nell and LeBlanc do give the film some grounding as fairly believable members of the campaign team, conveying the idea that while “Calamity” Jane is their leader, she’s also a loose cannon who sometimes needs reining in. Pachecho delivers a vulnerable, sensitive performance as Eduardo and he is the representative of the common Bolivian citizen, though the character’s function in the narrative does sometimes lean on the manipulative side.



While not particularly insightful, there’s no denying that the subject matter of Our Brand is Crisis is fascinating. The film flopped at the U.S. box office, perhaps in part because it was sold as being “from the producers of Argo”. It’s a touch ironic that Our Brand Is Crisishad some issues with its own branding. The opportunity to explore grim, shady geopolitical realities in an impactful manner is eschewed in favour of petty revenge shenanigans and comedy that’s broader than it should be, but Bullock’s performance is just enough to string it all together.

Summary:While suffering from tonal issues and a lack of biting revelation into the seedy underbelly of the political campaign business, Our Brand is Crisis manages to entertain and smartly utilises the talents of its leading lady.

RATING: 3out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong