Kudos are in order as Judd Apatow has officially transformed an acclaimed filmmaking career into legitimate brand-name recognition. The "Apatow" name has become synonymous with comedy, and it's been plastered all over television screens and billboards as a luring attraction for the general public. His film company's latest production, director Michael Showalter's Sundance Audience Award winner The Big Sick, brings hilarity back to the forefront of independent cinema, reminding us why it's always worthwhile to take a chance on any creative endeavor cloaked with the "Apatow" seal.
Kumail (Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani-born amateur comedian living in Chicago. After a performance one night, he meets a free-spirited white woman named Emily (Zoe Kazan) and their instant connection quickly turns into a meaningful relationship. But when the strict Muslim beliefs of Kumail's family force a wedge in their relationship, Emily soon suffers a severe sickness that leaves her comatose, and the trying situation helps give Kumail the strength he needs to confront his loved-ones.
The Big Sick is a poignant and timely examination of the modern Americanized Muslim struggling with their own faith. In an era of division across all walks of life, Michael Showalter's hysterical work addresses cultural and religious differences with nothing but sheer love. The tenderness displayed from scene to scene is effortlessly organic and stems from the real-life inspirations of star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife and co-writer, Emily V. Gordon. Scripted from their own crazy and true love story, taking creative license with only a few minor exceptions, Nanjiani and Gordon pen a wonderful screenplay that does a phenomenal job of setting up perfect comedic conclusions to the film's more personal moments. No matter what direction the story wanders, The Big Sick always circles back to its humor-first foundation. This well-balanced dramedy also benefits from brilliantly crafted characters that come to life through unique chemistry and fearless performances. Nanjiani and Kazan light up the screen together, which allows for a bitterly outstretched third act to feel like nothing more than a mere hiccup in an otherwise exceptional romantic comedy.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4
It's rare, but I went into Miguel Arteta's new drama, Beatriz at Dinner, completely blind. I hadn't seen a trailer or read a synopsis. It was the film's modest 82-minute running time and familiar favorites such as Salma Hayek and John Lithgow that were enough to draw me into the theater. Yet, this darkly-comedic Sundance selection packages together the story of an unlikely encounter with an absurdly frustrating finale that leaves Beatriz at Dinner as a remarkably forgettable film.
Beatriz (Hayek) is an illegal immigrant who happens to be an expert at holistic medicine. She lives a very simple lifestyle, but travels to the wealthy Los Angeles home of a family she's helped treat for years. And when car troubles leave her stranded at the residence just moments before an important business-related dinner party, Beatriz becomes an extra dinner guest at a table that includes billionaire real estate developer, Doug Strutt (Lithgow). The evening's events provide Beatriz with an in-depth look at how the rich and powerful view the world around them, and how different it is from her own experiences.
Director Miguel Arteta and screenwriter Mike White deliver a tone-deaf effort, one whose underlying sense of mystery and intrigue can only take the film so far. Eventually, Beatriz at Dinner becomes forced to show its hand, and everything spirals downward quickly from that point on. There aren't any issues with the onscreen work of this finely-assembled cast. The audience takes an unfamiliar journey into the life of Beatriz, an extremely unique character which Hayek engulfs so well. However, as the minutes mount and tensions between these opposing lifestyles grow, Beatriz at Dinner loses its voice with motivated rhetoric and pseudo thrills. The entire chance-encounter between the title character and tycoon Doug Strutt seemlessly morphs into a caricature of a dinner party. Both characters deviate into bloated figureheads of conflicting ideals, settling into a nauseating resolve that's littered with disappointment after disappointment until the final credits arrive to rescue us all from the torment.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4