The Big Sick

Based on the true love story of the movie’s writers Kumail Nanjiani who is best known for the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley and his wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is a terrific fresh take on the romantic comedy genre that is full of so much humor and human emotion to be appealing to those who do not like conventional romantic comedies. Played by himself, Kumail is a struggling standup comedian living in Chicago who works part-time as an Uber driver and feels extreme pressure from his traditional Pakistani Muslim family to marry a Pakistani woman. However, he personally experiences the difficult cross-cultural divide between his traditional Muslim family and his desire to be a typical young American man. He begins a relationship with a young white woman named Emily, played by Zoe Kazan, after they meet at one of his standup routines. However, their blossoming romance starts to fall apart when Emily discovers that Kumail’s parents are forcing Pakistani women on him, and, therefore, their future together may never work. Following their tense breakup, Kumail receives an unexpected phone call that Emily is in the hospital and, as the only person there that knows her, makes the decision to allow the doctors to place her in a medically induced coma to prevent the spread of a mysterious and life-threatening infection. Soon after, Emily’s parents Terry, played by Ray Romano, and Beth, played by Holly Hunter, rush to the hospital and basically tell Kumail he is no longer needed despite possibly saving her life. He refuses to leave the hospital, and, initially, her parents are fairly hostile to him and constantly ask him why he is there since Emily already broke up with him. Over several hilarious encounters and heartfelt moments when there is a fear that Emily will not make it, Kumail develops a very close and heartwarming relationship with both Terry and Beth and come to understand each other’s cultures. At the same time, Kumail’s family becomes increasingly agitated with their inability to arrange a marriage for him. They even claim to disown him for finally admitting that he is in love with an American woman who is neither Muslim or has a Pakistani background. Overall, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable films that I have seen recently and is remarkable for being so funny and uplifting despite being about a young woman in a coma.

The Hero

From the writer/director of 2015’s I’ll See You in My Dreams that also starred Sam Elliott as a love interest, The Hero is a quiet sentimental film, with an excellent performance from the golden-voiced Sam Elliott, that focuses on an aging Western movie star in the twilight of his career looking for meaning in his life. Decades past his prime acting career starring in wildly successful Westerns like a film called The Hero, Lee Hayden, played by Elliott, is looking for his big return to the movies but spends most of his days smoking marijuana with his former co-star and drug dealer Jeremy, played by Nick Offerman. After learning that he has cancer, he begins a relationship with a much younger stand-up comedian named Charlotte, played by That 70s Show’s Laura Prepon. His passionate love affair and his desire to reconnect with his estranged daughter Lucy, played by Krysten Ritter, are means to come to grips with his mortality and former success. As he is coping with his own personal demons and illness, Lee unexpectedly lands the opportunity of a lifetime to star in a new blockbuster movie that could revamp his dying career. Throughout the film, there are also the sequences of Lee as if he was the character from his most famous movie The Hero facing situations involving death. Although there are some light-hearted moments, particularly with Nick Offerman’s character, the movie slowly traces, in a somewhat melodramatic fashion, the daily routines of a sick man trying to get back up on his feet. Mirroring Sam Elliott’s own acting career in which he is in an emotional twilight phase, Lee reflects on his successful yet complicated past while still holding out some hope for his future through his invigorating relationship with Charlotte. Overall, I found it to be a well-crafted indie drama that is a somber and emotionally raw glimpse into the universal story of aging and facing mortality, brilliantly anchored by Sam Elliott.

Beatriz at Dinner

A particularly relevant story during such a time of political divisiveness, Beatriz at Dinner is an incisive dark comedy with important social commentary about social class and income inequality problems facing contemporary America. Played by the Mexican actress Salma Hayek in a terrific performance, Beatriz is a humble and kind-hearted Mexican immigrant who works as a holistic healer and masseuse for cancer patients and wealthy clients like the characters Cathy and Grant. After a session with Cathy at her and her husband Grant’s palatial mansion in upscale Orange County, Beatriz’s car breaks down and Cathy offers her to stay for a dinner party while she waits for her ride. Eventually, two other couples whose husbands have business interests with Grant arrive and practically ignore Beatriz’s presence, which leaves her in a very awkward position. However, she becomes vocally appalled by one of the guests, Doug Strutt who is played brilliantly by John Lithgow and is an extremely wealthy real estate tycoon with questionable legal and ethical practices. After learning more about what he actually does, Beatriz, who comes from a poor Mexican Village and exudes positivity, argues with Doug and berates him for his smug contempt and sheer meanness in his misguided pursuit of wealth at all costs. She is particularly disgusted by his showing off to the dinner guests of hunting a large animal on a recent African safari. You also get the sense that the hosts and the rest of the guests are out-of-touch with the real world because they talk about petty things and the accumulation of wealth rather than expressing sincere personal emotion and passion for taking care of others like Beatriz. The film in the form of Doug’s character eerily reminds the viewer of Donald Trump who, like Doug, is a brash real estate billionaire on his third wife. Overall, I found it to be a remarkable movie that touches on so many of today’s important societal issues in a fascinating fashion by recreating a supposedly simple dinner party through the eyes of an “outsider.”

The Wedding Plan

An Israeli film with dialogue spoken in Hebrew, The Wedding Plan is a romantic comedy that is able to transcend the genre by providing a unique and creative twist and a charismatic performance by the lead actress. Michal, portrayed by the Israeli actress Noa Koler, is an Orthodox Jewish woman in her early thirties who is finally about to get married after so many desperate years but encounters a serious problem a month before the wedding when her husband calls it off. Adamant to not be single, she decides to leave her fate up to God by continuing to plan to get married on the day that was she was supposed to have her wedding. Despite the urging of her mother and sister not to go ahead with the quite unusual plan, Michal keeps the wedding hall booking in Jerusalem even though she does not have a groom because she has full faith that God will provide her a suitable match in time. Her outlandish decision leads to several comic moments as she employees two Jewish matchmakers who set her up on several blind dates with some fairly unusual men. At one point during the movie, she takes a pilgrimage to Ukraine at the tomb of a famous rabbi where she runs into a dreamy yet unsuitable famous Israeli pop star who eventually falls in love with her. Her family becomes increasingly nervous as the day approaches, but Michal remains confident that everything will work out due to her fervent religiosity. On the day of her planned wedding, the 200 invited guests, along with a now very nervous Michal, awkwardly wait and see if a man will show up to marry her. Everyone is eventually greeted with an unexpected surprise that makes the festivities possible. Overall, I found it to be an interesting and sometimes funny film that mixes religion and romance in unorthodox fashion and showcases the acting performance of an actress who must portray a sometimes contradictory and overly zealous character. 

Paris Can Wait

Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Eleanor Coppola who is married to Academy Award-winning director Francis Ford Coppola, Paris Can Wait is a light-hearted romantic comedy that takes the audience on a frivolous yet pleasant journey through the beautiful French countryside. Diane Lane plays Anne who is married to an aloof successful movie producer, played by Alec Baldwin, and unexpectedly takes a two-day road trip from Cannes to Paris with her husband’s suave and charming French associate. Jacques, played by the French actor Arnaud Viard, is an easy-going debonair aficionado of fine wine, food, and art who takes Anne on a wonderfully scenic tour of his favorite parts of France and stops at exquisite restaurants and quintessentially French landmarks. Initially, she wants to get to Paris as soon as possible and feels awkward participating in such romantic activities with a flirtatious bachelor while she is married. Over the course of the film, she welcomes Jacques’ suggestions after realizing that the trip provides a much-needed distraction from her secretly unhappy life and largely unfulfilled marriage with her busy husband, a typical Alec Baldwin character. The movie reminds me of several other Diane Lane movies, particularly 2003’s Under the Tuscan Sun in which she leads a carefree existence in a beautiful foreign country. Overall, I found it to be a pleasing film full of joy and beauty that provides a welcome respite to the viewer’s dull daily life; it is a nice little movie that should not be taken too seriously. 

Their Finest

Set in 1940 in the midst of World War II in London, Their Finest is an entertaining wartime film blending charming characters with the serious plotline of creating cinematic propaganda to help the British war effort against the Nazi. The vibrant and nuanced Gemma Arterton plays a young secretary who finds herself becoming a screenwriter for British films promoting the Allied cause. Although she is in a complicated relationship with a struggling artist, she develops a close bond with the main screenwriter, played by Sam Claflin. They are enscripted to work on a dramatic romance revolving around the massive evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in the summer of 1940. Greenlit by the British Ministry of Information, the film is able to add star power by encouraging an older and rather pompous actor, played brilliantly by Bill Nighy, who is struggling to find work after enjoying great success many years ago. Arterton’s character eventually falls in love with Claflin’s character while on location on the British coastline with a large group of witty and eccentric actors and crew members. Despite containing elements of comedy and endearing romance, the movie makes the audience aware that it is a story set during war by showing the tragic impact of the German bombardment of London and emphasizing the characters’ roles in creating propaganda to help defeat the Axis powers. Overall, I found it to be a thoroughly engaging film that highlights an often overlooked aspect of World War II and effectively develops sympathetic and charismatic characters, especially those of Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy.

The Last Word

The Last Word is a fairly generic comedy drama about an unexpected friendship
that has moments of wit and charm and is anchored by the strong acting performances from the always terrific Shirley MacLaine and relative newcomer Amanda Seyfried. Shirley MacLaine plays Harriet Lauler, a retired highly successful businesswoman and a curmudgeon not really liked by anyone in her community and family, who feels like she is at the end of her life and decides to commission her own obituary even before her death. Eventually, she enlists the obituary writer at the local newspaper and an aspiring writer,
played by Seyfried, to research her life and interview many people from throughout her life in order to write an appealing obituary. However, the young writer realizes that almost nobody is willing to talk to her about Harriet since so many have hated her for her grumpy and strict attitudes. After being faced with this reality, Harriet makes it her mission to craft the perfect obituary by creating new memories and trying to create positive relationships with others. Therefore, the final half of the film becomes a redemption story for Harriet who discovers her passion for music by becoming a DJ at a local independent radio station, becomes a mentor for a poor African-American girl, and eventually develops a close kinship with Seyfried’s character. My favorite part
of the movie is Shirley MacLaine who gives her typically perfect performance as a curmudgeon committing unintentionally funny antics but gradually comes to understand the meaning of life and tries to reform her ways before her inevitable death. Overall, I found it to be a cute film that had its moments of morbidity as should be the case with a movie about a elderly woman and her obituary, but the film would probably not work were it not for Shirley MacLaine’s spot on acting.