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The Big Sick and Beatriz: Independents’ Day

June 28, 2017

If your idea of cinematic fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend doesn’t involve cartoon characters, car chases, superhero(in)es or giant robots, fear not. There are a couple of movies that find genuine drama and comedy in the lives of flesh-and-blood human beings. Of course, they’re both independently produced films—the major studios want nothing to do with reality this time of year, if ever.

The better of the pair is The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani’s affecting autobiographical rom-com about a stand-up who forges an unlikely bond with the parents of his comatose ex-girlfriend (the deeply adorable Zoe Kazan as Nanjiani’s real-life wife, Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the screenplay with him).  Under the sure-handed direction of Hello, My Name is Doris‘ Michael Showalter, Silicon Valley vet Nanjiani proves a surprisingly subtle leading man, holding his own in challenging scenes with the award winners who play his would-be in-laws, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.

Running two full hours, the film moves at the same leisurely pace as many of producer Judd Apatow’s often-overlong comedies like This is 40—or This is 40 Minutes Too Long, as my former Two Cranky Guys cohort Bret Watson dubbed it. But it’s never dull, even when it elicits more tears of empathy than hilarity. The cultural differences between Nanjiani’s Pakistani parents (Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff), who want him to enter an arranged marriage with a Muslim woman, and Kazan’s often-awkward folks is well-handled. When Romano’s slightly dim professor asks Nanjiani his feelings about 9/11 and he facetiously replies, “It was a real tragedy—we lost 19 of our best guys,” the line lands with equal parts laughter and pain. As does The Big Sick, a health-care saga that’s far more entertaining than the one playing out in Washington.

Beatriz at Dinner also resonates with the headlines, as the titular Mexican immigrant, an alternative healer played by a never-better Salma Hayek, butts head with a butt-headed real-estate mogul with the Trump-like name of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow, who wisely underplays his character’s bluster). After Beatriz’s car breaks down while she’s giving a massage, they share a meal at the mansion of one of Beatriz’s well-meaning but clueless clients (Connie Britton). The party is rounded out nicely by Chloe Sevigny, David Warshofky and the Transparent duo of Jay Duplass and Amy Landecker.

Insightfully written and directed by Mike White and Miguel Arteta, the team behind Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl (which wasn’t as good), the film doesn’t overstay its welcome, running a lean 83 minutes. But as it builds to a haunting climax, Beatriz at Dinner provides plenty of what many mature moviegoers are craving: food for thought.

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One Comment
  1. Thank you so much for these great reviews!

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