by Jonathan Schumann
(This week, Jonathan Schumann returns to Arts and Leisure to review The Big Sick. Jonathan, who shared this column with his dad, Mark Schumann, from 1999 to 2006, now lives in New York City.)
To categorize The Big Sick as a romantic comedy doesn’t do the film justice. Yes, it’s about a guy who gets the girl, loses the girl, and (spoiler alert) gets the girl back in the end. But The Big Sick is much more. Few recent films so deftly walk the line between comedy and drama. The resulting tone is strikingly and refreshingly human.
Writers Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars in the film) and Emily V. Gordon essentially bring their true-life love story to the screen. At first it’s a culture-clash romance. Kumail comes from a traditional Pakistani-American family that still believes in arranged marriage, so dating or marrying outside of the race is frowned upon. When he meets Emily (the delightful and charismatic Zoe Kazan) it’s clear that they click. But Kumail keeps Emily a secret from his family and his family’s expectations a secret from Emily. In movies, it’s a rule that secrets that are kept in the first act are due to be revealed in the second, and that certainly happens here. Just as things get serious, Emily finds what Kumail has been keeping from her and she calls things off.
And, then, Emily gets sick. Yes, after the couple break ups, Emily becomes overtaken with a mysterious illness and quickly ends up in a coma. Though they aren’t together anymore, Kumail stays by her side. Even as the film takes this decidedly dramatic turn, it doesn’t lose its humor or wit. That’s largely due to the arrival of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. Each gives a delightful, human turn that makes us believe these two physically mismatched characters have been married for ages. While, at first, the interactions surrounding Emily are tense, the characters begin to appreciate each other and, as Emily’s situation progresses, they find themselves able to reassess relationships. And, because this is a movie, we can guess how it all may end. Like the best of romantic comedy, The Big Sick uses its narrative arc to make us hope, wonder and rejoice at the most meaningful moments. What makes the film so memorable is how, within this often predictable framework, it manages to stay fresh enough to surprise.
The key authorship here belongs to Nanjiani and Gordon’s script. Nanijiani, too, proves to be an appealing leading man. You can also feel the presence of producer Judd Apatow in the comic sensibility and fresh performances. Director Michael Showalter also deserves credit for bringing some of the quick wit he captured with Hello My Name is Doris here as well.
Streaming Pick: Broadcast News
This James L. Brooks classic has a similar tone to The Big Sick — funny, melancholy and altogether human. Holly Hunter stars as a neurotic news producer caught in a love triangle with self-deprecating Albert Brooks and pretty but dim William Hurt. Extra points for casting young Joan Cusack as a zany associate producer.
While You Were Sleeping
Similar to The Big Sick in that it’s a coma comedy, this charmer launched the career of Sandra Bullock (who went on to star in far too many sub-par films in the genre over the years). Nevertheless, Bullock is at her most appealing, and the supporting players here, namely Peter Boyle and Glynis Johns, delight.
(The Big Sick, running 2 hours, Rated R for “language including some sexual references.” Four Popcorn Buckets. Read more about movies directed by Michael Showalter in the Reel Dad, Arts and Leisure online, below.)
Film Nutritional Value: The Big Sick
- Content: High. Few recent films so deftly walk the line between comedy and drama. The tone is strikingly and refreshingly human.
- Entertainment: High. Like the best of romantic comedy, The Big Sick uses its narrative arc to make us hope, wonder and rejoice at the most meaningful moments.
- Message: High. What makes the film so memorable is how, within this often predictable framework, the movie manages to stay fresh enough to surprise.
- Relevance: High. Any chance to share an evening with such delightful characters is always relevant.
- Opportunity for Dialogue: High. As familiar as romantic comedy can feel on screen, there is enough that surprises in The Big Sick to give you a lot to talk about.
Hello, My Name is Doris celebrates Showalter’s talents
by Mark Schumann
The Reel Dad
As director Michael Showalter collects raves for The Big Sick, we don’t have to look far in the movie archives to find another example of his directing expertise. While Hello, My Name is Doris didn’t get the attention it deserved when released in 2015, it serves as a prime example of what a director and star can achieve when they bring out the best in each other.
At first, this film looks deceptively simple. And, if you saw this lady on the street, you might think she is just another eccentric who finds a New York state of mind so freeing. Doris wears her own style of clothing, freely picks up free stuff left on the sidewalk, and returns to her a Staten Island home each evening after work to be with her cats and her many souvenirs of a life defined by limits. For Doris, as perfectly played by Sally Field, each day is a reminder of what hasn’t come her way. After years of caring for her live-in mother she finds herself uncertain after the woman dies. And, when Doris accidentally meets a young man in the elevator one day, she begins to imagine why life could have been.
My Name is Doris is one of those well-conceived, well-made independent films that too often disappear. While it did make it to theaters early in 2015 — after a successful premiere at the South By Southwest festival — the marketplace for movies makes it difficult for small films to find an audience. Only when they become available for home viewing — online, on DVD, on demand — do these pieces get the attention they serve. And that’s how this gem of a movie can be enjoyed.
Doris — the lady and the movie — deserves our attention. Like Grandma (with Lily Tomlin) and I’ll See You in My Dreams (starring Blythe Danner) Doris focuses on the challenges women face as they age. What makes this one different are the layers of issues that Showalter and Laura Terruso explore their wise screenplay, everything from hoarding to siblings, from ageism to bitterness. And, of course, the big difference is this film has Sally Field.
From her first moment on screen, the two-time Oscar winner is a revelation in a role that demands every fiber of her actress being. At one moment she is funny, another sad; at one, cheerful, followed by confused. Field inhabits the character rather than performs a portrayal. And she makes us believe in all the outrageous steps that Doris takes to redefine her life for the first time she can call it her life. Of the marvelous moments Field has created on screen, this stands out as a performance that feels fresh, spontaneous and beautifully nuanced. And it’s a shame she was overlooked for end-of-year honors for 2015.
Ultimately, My Name is Doris reminds us that, yes, aging is a state of mind and, yes, that we are only as old as we feel. And on those days we feel exceptionally old, this film, especially this performance, remind us that as long as we feel challenge we will feel satisfaction. And as long as we watch films directed by Michael Showalter, we will be entertained.