Review – The Big Sick

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There are many, many small-budget films that are released in any given year.  Most of them are overlooked due to the lack of an advertising budget or are swallowed up by the large-scale blockbusters that monopolize most theaters.  And then, on occasion, one breaks through.  It strikes a chord with film lovers.  Word-of-mouth builds.  It makes itself known to general audiences.  And it finds true cinematic life.  The Big Sick is one of those films.

Directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris), The Big Sick recounts the true story of star Kumail Nanjiani (star of “Silicon Valley”, fan of “The X-Files”) as he meets his future wife, Emily Gordon.  Nanjiani and Gordon co-wrote the script themselves and – as suggested above – Nanjiani plays himself, with Emily being portrayed by the wonderful Zoe Kazan (The Monster – check that one out for a completely different side of Kazan).  Having co-written the film, themselves, Nanjiani and Gordon retained control of the story and kept firm hold of all the highs and lows, laughs and cries, and failures and successes of their own, intimate tale.

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Knowing that the two lead characters co-wrote the actual film naturally leads to some unavoidable spoilers, but the heart of this narrative lies in its journey, not its destination.  Nanjiani has been heavily promoting the film and actively proclaiming it as a labor of love between he and his wife.  They want the audience to know how it ends – with Kumail and Emily together.  The point is what they overcame to get there and how one can never be sure what may lie in their own future.

In today’s world, a lot is made about America and their ongoing levels of intolerance, much of which stems from closed-minded religious practices.  And, certainly, much should be made of it.  But The Big Sick reminds us that America isn’t isolated in its culpability regarding dogmatism.  Originally hailing from Pakistan before moving to Chicago, Nanjiani’s family clings tightly to their traditional Muslim beliefs, whereas Nanjiani has grown to embrace a more open, liberal view of the world and of love.  Understandably, he wants no part of an arranged marriage, despite how insistent his mother (Zenobia Shroff) is upon the custom.  Once Kumail meets and falls for Emily, he fears telling his family about his relationship with “a white girl” as he knows his family well enough to predictably expect them to force his hand in choosing between them or to be excommunicated.  Complications organically arise and are only furthered when Emily falls suddenly and mysteriously ill (hence the film’s title) and Kumail is introduced to her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) under severely unfortunate circumstances.

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The Big Sick is a slice of modern life.  In fact, I have often (and unimaginatively) referred to films such as this one as “Life Movies”, because they don’t paint themselves into one specific corner with regards to genre, just as a day in real life doesn’t.  The goal here is simply to tell the story in a clear, concise, and – most importantly – honest fashion.  It’s a comedy when it’s appropriate.  It’s a drama when it’s appropriate.  And, like many of us (including me), Kumail uses humor as a defense mechanism, so, sometimes, it’s even a comedy when it isn’t appropriate (one such instance got a bigger laugh from me than any other moment in the entire film).  But the film never loses its charm nor its perpetual sincerity.  There are no evil villains.  There are no perfect heroes.  There are just real people who are the sums of their life experiences and are trying desperately to reconcile themselves with the complex world around them.

For me, personally, the film brought back some memories.  It took me back to the One That Got Away.  It made me question how I let that happen, or even if I could have done anything to prevent it, at all.  Did I screw it up?  Did she?  Did both of us?  After time, would I have even wanted to be with her?  What if she had voted for Trump?  What a horrible way for it to have ended (and it would have ended).  It’s that horrible purgatory of not-knowing that has left me where I am today – unable to move on and holding her high on a pedestal that she likely doesn’t even deserve.  But it’s movies like The Big Sick that turn its audience into introspective soul-sleuths and that’s largely the purpose of art, is it not?  To make one think about the reality of life and what may or may not happen, down the line (not for me, probably.  She’s married.  With a kid.  And I’m pretty sure she hates me, too.) – to open one’s eyes to previously discounted possibilities – to remind one of the delicate nature of existence and that tomorrow is not guaranteed – these are the hallmarks of films that are more than just simple movies.  They’re important.

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The Big Sick is not flashy.  It’s not loud.  There are no exorbitant special effects.  There’s no soundtrack full of hip, flash-in-the-pan, wannabe garage bands.  The Big Sick is a poignant reminder that life is unpredictable and should be cherished as such.  It should be embraced and not resisted.  Love, not hate, drives progression, both on a worldly scale and on a personal one.  See those big movies.  See Wonder Woman (again) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (again) and War for the Planet of the Apes.  But leave a few dollars for The Big Sick.  Ironically, it may just be the cure you’ve been looking for.

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Review – The Big Sick

18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m going to say this with pride: I loved Man of Steel.  It was exciting (those fight scenes . . . THOSE FIGHT SCENES!!!), intelligent, emotional, memorable and resonant.  People are still talking about it.  And they’re talking about it for reasons other than the fact that it leads directly into Batman v Superman.  They’re talking about it because it gave them something to talk about.

And, fittingly, people are already talking about Batman v Superman, as well.  It’s become clear over recent years (and I’ve discussed this before), that audiences have taken on an air of entitlement.  In many of the reviews I’ve seen for Batman v Superman, this entitlement makes itself known.  Everyone is declaring that this movie “has to be” this or “has to be” that or “shouldn’t” do this or “shouldn’t” do that.  Closed-mindedness is the truest sign of audience entitlement.  And I’ve been seeing it everywhere.

So, I went in (wearing a Superman shirt.  #TeamSuperman!) very open-minded, as I always do.  I love these characters and I always hope for the best when I sit down for one of these movies.  But I also don’t lie to myself about why I’m there.  I want fights.  I want special effects.  I want to see things I never thought I’d see in live-action.  Anything else on top of that is extra.  I find it amusing when people see a comic book film and complain about things like character development or subtext.  I like those things, too.  And I like when comic book movies have those things.  But when Batman v Superman was announced almost three years ago, I didn’t see or hear one single person celebrate by saying, “Yes!  I can’t wait to hear all of the introspective dialogue!”  So, let’s stop pretending, people, okay?  As long as these films stay true to the basic themes of the characters and have sweet fight scenes, special effects, and just take me away for a couple of hours, then I’m good.  If they have all of the other good stuff on top of that, then it becomes something special.  But, in my heart, I want excitement.  I want thrills.  I want wish fulfillment.  I’m not looking for Memento, here.  In fact, I’d be disappointed if that was what I got.

So, where does Batman v Superman fall on that spectrum?  One of the things the entitled declare is that the film is “too serious”.  That’s not a legitimate criticism.  That’s a personal preference.  Being based on a comic book doesn’t necessitate any particular tone.  And being serious doesn’t automatically preclude a film from being fun.  Even if the story is “serious”, it’s still a movie about a rich guy with toys fighting a super-powered alien.  That’s fun no matter what else goes down.  But the film is allowed to make statements and contain gravitas.  Warner Brothers is trying to distinguish its cadre of characters from that of Marvel, which is a great idea.  The tone is one way of doing that (though handcuffing themselves and becoming a slave to said tone can be a problem, down the line).  So, what of Batman v Superman‘s tone?

Well, it’s serious, just like they said.  But, again, that doesn’t keep it from being fun.  What’s evident after seeing both this film and Man of Steel is that Zack Snyder has a particular story structure that he’s very comfortable with for these films.  There’s a lot of set-up, set-up, set-up, and then a final hour that just goes gangbusters with some of the craziest comic book action and ideas that you’ve ever seen on film.  And that’s fine.  Who’s to say that a film can’t be structured that way?  At the end of this movie, I felt exhilarated and my adrenaline was truly pumping.  That’s a success in my book.

That’s not to say that the movie is perfect.  In fact, some of the criticisms that the professionals have are, in fact, accurate.  The first half is somewhat unfocused.  Warner Brothers and DC are playing catchup to Marvel and trying to follow in their footsteps by crafting their own universe into a sprawling film franchise.  But, rather than adapt Marvel’s approach of establishing the characters in individual films and then bringing them together, WB is bringing them together, first, and then branching them off into their own films.

As a result, whereas Snyder’s Man of Steel was very intent on establishing Superman and his supporting cast, Batman v Superman isn’t able to take the time to do the same for the new characters.  And, yes, that includes Batman.  As strange as it sounds for a character who has penetrated the zeitgeist to the extent that Batman has, we could have used a separate Batman film with the new Affleck version in order to see who, exactly,  this new Batman is before we got to this film.  What are his motivations and goals?  What is his motus operandi?  His history?  Since we don’t get that, he absolutely comes off as an unreasonable villain for nearly the entire film.  He essentially wants to keep all aliens off of the planet, whether they’re a threat to us or not.  And if he can’t keep them off, then he wants to kill them.  Yes, that’s right – for the majority of the runtime, Batman is Donald Trump.

Snyder could also stand to learn that there’s a difference between laying foundation for future stories and forcing scenes into a movie that shout into the audience’s faces that more stuff is coming.  There are a couple of scenes that do just that and it’s frankly disorienting.  Not confusing.  Not by the end, at least.  Just jarring.

And is it wise to launch a universe with an aging Batman?  If he’s “already too old to die young”, as Alfred says, how much longer can he realistically be doing this within this continuity?

Also,for all the complaining that the film is too serious, the attempts at humor (and there are some) generally fall flat.  I wouldn’t call them groan-worthy.  Just obvious and unoriginal.  So, perhaps it’s better that they leave the humor to the folks over at Marvel.  Perry White gets a good line or two, though.

Also, I think that I’m going to hate . . . H-A-T-E . . . Ezra Miller as the Flash.  Of all of the recent casting related to the DC Cinematic Universe, his was the only one that furrowed my eyebrows.  And I cringed at the small glimpse we got of him in this.  Not optimistic about that one.

So, those are my criticisms and concerns.  Now for what I liked . . ..

Firstly, there was clearly forethought in the construction of Man of Steel and bridging from that movie to this one.  There were lots of whiners about the climax of that film as if the audience was a step ahead of the filmmakers and catching things that Snyder and company weren’t.  Not true.  In fact, it’s never true.  Filmmakers always know their films better than you.  Snyder is aware of everything I mentioned above.  He just made the choice to forge ahead, anyway, and risk that those issues wouldn’t do much (if any) damage and would even pay off later.  We’ll see.  I hope so, as I’m pulling for them.

And where Batman is Donald Trump, Superman is Jesus.  This is nothing new, of course, as Superman has been portrayed as a Christ-like figure for many years.  Batman v Superman doesn’t even attempt to be subtle about it, however, and I have no problem with that.  It’s an easy comparison to make and plays heavily into the underlying theme regarding the muddied separation of man from god.

Superman is perfection, as he was in Man of Steel.  There has been a great pedigree of actors to play the character but I think Henry Cavill is my favorite.  He has a strong vulnerability that’s unique to him, while also coasting through the everyman persona.  And I believe in him.  I believe he wants to do good and I believe he can and he will.  Frankly, due to the contrasting portrayals of Superman and Batman in this film, if you’re still for Batman by the time the fight begins, you might be kind of a dick.

Ben Affleck, as expected, did just fine as Batman.  I’m not sure where he falls on my list of favorite Batmans, but I have no complaints.  The Affleck hate is silly and childish.  When I ask people why they hate him, they never have a good answer.  Let’s all grow up a little and learn about objectivity, shall we?

Amy Adams, as always, owns her role.  I was glad to see her have more to do as Lois than I expected in a film this crowded.  Jeremy Irons is fine as Alfred but, again, we know nothing about him.  Really could have used that solo Batman movie as a lead-in.  Laurence Fishburne doesn’t get much, but he makes the most of his screen time.  Jesse Eisenberg was fine.  I expected to hate him.  I didn’t hate him.  I didn’t love him, but I didn’t hate him.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was absolutely breathtaking.  And I mean that in every way I could possibly mean that.  When she first showed up in full costume, I actually got chills and the audience applauded.  After she was cast, I rolled my eyes at the people who complained that she was “too skinny” to play Wonder Woman.  Wonder Woman’s strength comes from her heritage, not her physique, and she’s been drawn in many different ways by many different artists throughout her long, long history, and not always with muscles on top of muscles.  I would think that such “experts” would know all of that.

But she was absolutely captivating and it was obvious that she was having a blast.  And by “she”, I mean both Gadot and Wonder Woman.  They were practically one and the same.  She radiates power in both the external and internal senses and I just want to see more, more, MORE!

Finally the last hour is just wall-to-wall action and is everything I go to these movies to experience.  And it was just that – an experience.  These characters do the things you have always wanted to see them do.  It’s beautiful.  I could have sat there and continued watching the finale until I died of old age.  So, when people say this film has no aspect of fun, I say that they’re just putting on a sour face to maintain a semblance of their self-perceived reputation.  Because that last hour is pure joy.

So, here’s what it comes down to.  It’s not a perfect movie.  It does a lot right.  But it also gets ahead of itself on many occasions.  The question is whether or not something like that really bothers you.  I noticed it.  It bothered me, to an extent.  Are you bothered by unconventional film structuring?  I’m not, so much.  Real life stories play out at different paces and in different ways, so I don’t see why fictional stories can’t, too.  But, without question, I got more good out of this movie than bad.  By a long shot.

Comparisons to Marvel Studios are going to persist, though.  That’s unavoidable.  And Marvel far outperforms WB in terms of creating a connection between its characters and its audience.  And that’s largely because they were patient and took their time in building their universe and rolling the characters out to the audience one-at-a-time.  And it’s also partially because they’re getting better behind-the-scenes talent who understand what works for general audiences.  Because in order for these films to succeed, they need the general audience.  I was a little concerned that the Suicide Squad trailer got virtually no response, tonight, and that was from a converted crowd.  Harley Quinn got a little bit of a reaction but even she didn’t get all that much.  If the diehards aren’t reacting, I can’t help but wonder if casual moviegoers are going to show up.  I hope it’s great and I hope it does well.  We’ll know in August.

Bottom line: the first two acts are a mixed bag with plenty of good but plenty of distractions as well.  The final act is why you’re really there.  And it’s completely worth the wait.  As a whole, the film isn’t among the very best comic book films.  But you can’t miss it and keep your geek cred.  So, stop pretending you aren’t going to see it and just go, already.  And don’t even try to tell me you didn’t enjoy that climax, you dirty, dirty liar.

18. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice