The Big Sick – My favorite Rom Com in years

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Zoe Kazan and Kumail Nanjiani appear in The Big Sick by Michael Showalter, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nicole Rivelli.

I have been anticipating The Big Sick‘s theatrical release since it started a bidding war at Sundance in January.  There was a slow roll out of the film, first just NY and LA and then adding a few cities each weekend until finally it came to my Chicago Suburb.  It made it to 5th in the US box office last weekend.  I saw it on a Wednesday matinee and it was nearly sold out!  On a Wed at 1:30!  (Granted it was Senior discount day, but still!)

I was worried the film wouldn’t live up to my hightened expectations — the trailer is so amusing, but I shouldn’t have worried.  I loved it!

I wasn’t familiar with Kumail Nanjiani really, as I’ve only watched a few episodes of his HBO series Silicon Valley.  He just is so charming and sweet in this film.  He immigrated to the US from Pakistan when he was 18, and has a tight knit family.  His father requested that Anupam Kher play him in the film, and they finally found a cousin of Anupam’s to reach him in India.  When Anupam first called Kumail after he read the script, Kumail hung up on him because he thought it was a prank!

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Zenobia Shroff, who I think has a few Bollywood credits, plays Kumail’s mother in the film.  Kumail wants to pursue a career as a stand up comic, but his family just wants him to take the LSAT and agree to an arranged marriage.  His mother has girl after girl “just drop by” when Kumail is home for dinner with his family.

Kumail meets Emily at one of his stand up shows.  She yells “Whoo Hoo” when he asks if anyone in the crowd is from Pakistan.  Then he gently tells her she should never heckle even if it’s a positive thing.  “Even if I yell out that you’re great in bed?” They have so much chemistry in the film.  It’s adorable.

maxresdefault (27)When Emily finds the cigar box full of pictures of Pakistani women his mother has been trying to set him up with, they have a huge argument and break up.  Shortly afterwards Emily becomes seriously ill and is put into a medically induced coma in ICU.  Kumail has to notify her parents, and it’s very awkward when they are all in the waiting room together at the hospital.  Ray Romano and Holly Hunter play Emily’s parents, and they have a loving, but bickering relationship.  It felt very real to me.  Emily has told her parents about the breakup, so they don’t see any reason for Kumail to stay — but he has to.

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Kumail has kept his relationship with Emily a secret from his family, because a cousin who married a non-Muslim white woman has been completely cut out of the family.  He is torn by his love of Emily and his devotion to his family.

Even though I knew things would work out, I cried in this film.  I also laughed out loud, and laughed a lot.  It is so funny.  Ray Romano and Holly Hunter were given license to improvise some of their lines, and they are gems.  Judd Apatow is a producer on the film and helped Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon write the real life story of their rocky courtship into a workable script.

I heartily recommend you listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Kumail and Emily on Fresh Air.  It’s fascinating hearing the process they went through to make this film with Apatow, and also more background on their families and relationship.

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This film is about a real life conflict and a traumatic time in the lives of Kumail and Emily.  I won’t spoil how it all works out, but it was glorious to watch it unfold.  I highly, highly recommend that everyone see this film.  It lives up to the hype, believe me.  Just a delightful script, and great performances all around.

I’ve been reading about how we’re finally getting to see and hear Muslim-American stories.  There was Hassan Minhaj’s fantastic comedy special Homecoming King and of course Aziz Ansari’s Master of None series also on Netflix.  But this is the big time — a film on the big screen.  This film was made before we were in the midst of the Trump presidency, but seems even more topical now.

 

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M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story – Compelling first half, that falls apart in the second

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I was traveling overseas on vacation and the M.S. Dhoni movie starring Sushant Singh Rajput was one of the “international” choices on the plane movie entertainment system.  So, I took a chance on it.  I know nothing about cricket — only as much as you pick up watching Lagaan.  I knew nothing about Dhoni either — only had heard his name.

 

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The first half of the film with the story of Dhoni’s childhood and early days trying to work up to the big leagues I found very compelling.  The two romances in the film were also very well done.

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After I watched the movie, I read about how many months Sushant spent working with cricket coaches to perfect the signature Dhoni swing.  I can’t speak to how well he embodied Dhoni since I haven’t ever watched the real man play, but he did a good job acting the part.

The second half of the film just fell apart for me.  It was sixer after sixer in a highlight reel of games that didn’t mean anything to me.  I suppose they were important.  Margaret of Don’t Call It Bollywood shared with me that she saw this film in a theater crowded with Dhoni fans who anticipated every big moment, and even change of jersey colors.  I was watching it alone on a plane, so I didn’t have that to give me any sense of dramatic tension.

 

I shouldn’t have to be an expert in cricket or the man Dhoni to feel dramatic tension and be swept up in his story.  I’ve seen other films about sports I know nothing about that are some of my favorite films ever.  Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the Formula One racer Senna is incredible.  (Kapadia went on to win the Oscar for Amy.)  I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole movie.  I’m a fan of Michael Sheen so I watched The Damned United, about the short reign of a football coach for the Manchester United team.  The conflict between Sheen’s character and the team, the management, and especially his best friend and partner is an incredibly dramatic story.  Highly recommend both films, btw.

Dhoni participated in this film, doing several hours of interviews, and they used those real details to give the “untold” story.  But that meant that they glossed over some other real events to stay in Dhoni’s good graces.  He was a “consultant” or executive producer or something on the film.  There were little moments that just slid by, that you could have based the entire dramatic arc of the second half on — like his insistence as captain of the India team to force out a few older players who weren’t “fit” to start rebuilding the team toward the World Cup years in the future.  Just mentioned and then glossed over.  There were a few moments like that.  Instead we got more footage of sixer after sixer.  I actually almost dozed off watching it.

Anupam Kher is of course great as Dhoni’s father.  He’s always great.  The music montage numbers were good.  Those songs were in the charts for weeks.  And I did like the romances.

I guess I give it 2 and a half stars for the good first half.  If you’re a fan of cricket and Dhoni, this film may be for you.  If not, give it a miss.  It’s on Netflix streaming currently in the US.

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Paheli – My Kind of Ghost Story

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Paheli, Shahrukh Khan’s 2005 movie about a ghost or spirit is one of my all time favorite Shahrukh Khan movies, even if it is not one of his blockbusters.  It’s not a scary Halloween movie (like maybe Darr, which is more creepy than scary), but it does have a ghost!  Paheli means riddle.

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Fantasy film seem to be unusual in Hindi cinema, and in this film Shahrukh Khan plays both a number counting merchant husband, and a bhoot, or a ghost or spirit (sort of a genie, really) who takes his place.  Rani Mukerji is the bride who captivates the Ghost, with Amitabh as a wise shepherd in a cameo.  It’s a fable that is also about women’s empowerment, and the scene where SRK tells Rani he’s a ghost is one of my all-time favorites.  She laughs at first, because it sounds ridiculous!  But her real husband barely noticed her, and wouldn’t sleep with her on their wedding night, but this ghost is obsessed with her every since he saw her at the well he haunted.

He could have lied and just taken her in the guise of her husband, but he loves her enough to give her the choice.  Swoon!

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Rani and SRK have always had great chemistry, but man do they smolder in Paheli.  Yowza.

The costumes are just stunning, and the music in the film is just fantastic:

 

Amitabh Bachchan has a fun cameo as the wise shepherd who must solve the riddle of the two husbands.  Juhi Chawla, who co-produced the film, plays Rani’s sister-in-law whose husband (Sunil Shetty) had disappeared.  Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak play puppet narrators and of course Anupam Kher is the father.

tumblr_n1rdaglgnt1qmz4s4o1_1280I love Shahrukh in double roles and these two roles he makes completely separate people.  The husband is comedic and obtuse, and the ghost playful and sultry.

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Plus, I love the idea of a ticklish ghost!  Paheli has been overlooked but I love it.  And I love its message of female empowerment and choice.

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Laaga Chunari Mein Daag – There’s nothing like a good cry

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-10-53-07-pm-1Laaga Chunari Mein Daag [My Veil is Stained] is an old fashioned type of melodrama, and I ate it up with a spoon.  I hadn’t had a good cry watching a movie in quite awhile, and there’s nothing I love more than Ranishek.  There’s something about their jodi that I just adore.  I don’t know if it’s how tiny she is, and how tall he is, and how he looms over her protectively.  Abhishek Bachchan is just swoony paired with Rani Mukerji, and especially so in this film.

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This film also passes the Bechdel test spectacularly.  Rani plays the older of two sisters who grow up in Benares on the banks of the Ganges.  They live in a big ramshackle old house with a father who is too ill to work (Anupam Kher) and a mother who’s struggling to keep the family afloat financially (Jaya Bachchan).  Konkona Sen Sharma is Chutki and is still in school, whil Rani Mukerji as Badki realizes she needs to find work to take the pressure off her mother.

screen-shot-2012-02-02-at-3-56-49-pm Rani goes to Mumbai, and since she had not finished school and cannot speak English, she has trouble finding, and keeping any job.  When her father is hospitalized and she calls home, Jaya in exasperation quarrels with her on the phone and tells her she can’t come home.  In desperate straits, she becomes a high class escort with the name Natasha.

Okay, this part was a bit far-fetched as while she is duped into losing her virginity, she somehow easily becomes a high-fashion wearing high class escort with the help of a friend.  She sends money home to her family to pay for her father’s medicine as well as to put her sister through college.

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She is the mistress of an executive who makes her an “event planner” or some made up position and travels to Zurich with him on a conference.  That’s where she meets Rohan, an attorney, and they have a magical day together.

Away from her normal life as a courtesan, she can imagine that she’s just a girl on a date, but reality calls her back.

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Her sister surprises her by just showing up at her apartment as she has a new job in Mumbai after completing her MBA.  Konkona has her own romantic storyline with the creative director at her office played by Kunal Kapoor.  (I do love Kunal and Konkona together.  They were great in Aaja Nachle, too.)  Rani has done everything she can to hide her true profession, but her sister’s wedding brings everything to a head.  Jaya, her mother doesn’t want her to come home as people will talk.

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What I loved was that when Rani’s sister learns the truth, she realizes the sacrifices she made on the family’s behalf.  She doesn’t judge Rani at all, and insists she come home for the wedding.  And that’s when Rani finally gets her happy ending with Abhishek.  It’s so wonderful, because she’s so afraid what he would think if he knew, but he knew all along and loved her anyway.  The tears started when Rani’s sister accepted her, and just poured down my cheeks in the final scenes.

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There’s also a fantastic cameo in the film by Hema Malini who plays a famous courtesan in Benares.

Yes, it’s a big melodrama, but it’s a Yash Raj Aditya Chopra produced melodrama so I loved it.  And Ranishek.  You just can’t beat swoony Ranishek.

Four stars out of five.

Wake Up Sid – Slacker Ranbir Coming of Age

wake-up-sid-12hI liked Wake Up Sid more than I thought I would.  To be honest, the story is a bit too close to home, as my son has graduated college and is trying to find his way in the world.

Ranbir Kapoor is Sid.  He’s a rich Bombay kid who flunks his college finals.  Anupam Kher is his father (who else!) and tells him he has to go to work in the family plumbing fixture business.  When he walks out, Sid and his father have a huge fight and he is kicked out of his family home, his credit cards canceled.

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Sid can’t think of anywhere to go than to the apartment of his new friend Aisha ((Konkona Sen Sharma).  I think Aisha was supposed to be 27 and Ranbir much younger as he was supposed to be a college graduate (maybe 23?).  Anyway, it’s unusual to have the woman be older in any Bollywood relationship so brownie points for that.  Aisha is new to Bombay and starting a new job and an independent life.

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Sid learns all the real life skills that he has had no clue about in his sheltered life, like laundry, fixing up an apartment and cooking an egg.  Sid has a passion for photography and ends up getting a job at the magazine where Aisha works.

It sounds trite, but the script is actually pretty clever.  This is the debut feature film of director Ayan Mukerji who also wrote the story of the film.  He won the Filmfare best debut director deservedly.  Wake Up Sid was quite the success, and his second feature is the mega-hit Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.  His films both have characters and situations that while filmi, still feel grounded in reality, aa specific young urban reality.   (I’m a little leery that his next project is reported to be a superhero film, also starring his muse Ranbir Kapoor, Dragon.)

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The romance evolves organically.  They’re just friends at first and sleep on separate pallets in the same room.  Aisha tries not to fall in love, because Sid is at first such a mess and so purposeless.  But this is charming Ranbir after all, she has no chance.  Once he reconciles with his parents upon getting his first magazine job paycheck, he moves out, and that’s what makes both of them realize how their feelings have changed.

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Fortunately, the film doesn’t just focus on Sid and his travails.  Aisha gets her own storyline with an almost romance with her sophisticated jazz-loving boss.  It was nice, frankly, to see Konkona Sen Sharma get a juicy big part like this in a romantic film.

My feelings about this film are just tinged by the fact that I’m living this right now with my own son.  So it’s not exactly escapist fare for this mom.  Sid only took about a month to wake up.  Sometimes the process is longer.

Still, I think the director is fantastic, and I look forward to all his future projects, even if he makes Ranbir a superhero (gulp!)

Four stars out of five.