The Big Sick (2017) starring Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, & Ray Romano

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the movie (now in wide release).

the-big-sick-poster-2.jpg

The amazing part of this movie is that it deals with deeply serious complex issues, but does so with humor and grace. The screenplay is remarkable and nuanced…

The screenplay for this quirky, clever, and (sometimes) emotional rom com was written by its Pakistani immigrant lead actor (Kumail Nanjiani from Silicon Valley) and his American-born wife (Emily V. Gordon); it is based (partly) on their real-life love story. Emily is played by Zoe Kazan (granddaughter of the famed director, Elia Kazan); her character falls into a coma mid-way through the movie. Kumail’s love of video games and admiration of Hugh Grant (esp. his hairstyle) are noted; he mentioned these points in various interviews. This is NOT the typical rom com (thank goodness!)- it’s a LOT more realistic (“awkward” is a term used in promos), it includes people of color (POC), and is easy to relate to (esp. for second-generation desis and/or Muslims). 

Veteran actors, Holly Hunter (who I really enjoy watching) and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond) play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. Kumail’s father is played by a veteran Bollywood comedian, Anupam Kher, who also played the patriarch on the British film Bend it Like Beckham; he acts in both Hindi and English. Kumail’s friends from the comedy world get rather meaty roles for this genre; they are Aidy Bryant (SNL), Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunholer. Fans of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore may recognize Indian-born model-turned-actress, Shenaz Treasury, who plays Fatima, Kumail’s sister-in-law. 

One may be tempted to say Kumail’s family are the antagonists of the story. This might be true if one is trying to parse out this or that or the other with the characters, but this is over-simplification. They are an obstacle for Kumail, but really his biggest enemy is himself, how he views what his family has put on him, what his own culture has done to his mind, and at the same time reconciling with being a modern American given all the relative opportunities everyone else has. 

In the break-up scene, Kumail declares: “I’m fighting over 1,400 years of tradition! You were just ugly in high school!” after Emily finds the cigar box filled w/ pics of eligible women. Yes, indeed he is fighting something (baggage, anyone?)- he doesn’t believe in Islam (pretends to pray in his parents’ basement), drinks alcohol (a no-no for devout Muslims), and is hiding his relationship from his family (NOT healthy). I think that ALL of us in the desi diaspora have family, friends, or everyday acquaintances who have gone through something like this! Jhumpa Lahiri (who is an Indian-American/Hindu) wrote about some of the same themes in The Namesake; the film (which contains some Bengali language- cool) was quite good also. 

The tonal shifts might seem extreme at first, but they gradually cement a powerful narrative that makes for a lot of laughs, but also becomes bittersweet and endearing without resorting to a hint of sentimentality.

Now, a few of you may have read the criticism re: how “brown women” are portrayed in this film; I scanned over 3 opinion pieces so far. I was worried about this (before I saw it), however, a desi woman could NOT be the lead of this story b/c it was re: Kumail’s life. It’s obvious that Fatima and Naveed, Kumail’s older brother, have a loving relationship (which was arranged). Also, the single women who come to dinner are ALL of different looks and personalities, from a curvy Pakistani sci fi nerd, an American-raised waif (who speaks Urdu), and Khadija (Vela Lovell- who is Caucasian and Indian in reality). This American actress is part of the ensemble cast on CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a quirky comedy where she plays the slacker neighbor of Rebecca, the lead character. In an alternate world, Khadija and Kumail could have worked (as they have some chemistry), BUT he was already deeply in love w/ Emily. Are there stereotypes in this film? Yes, there are some present, BUT there are also subtle touches (where MOST of the characters are humanized).

Sure, there needs to be stories of desis/Muslims getting together, BUT we need artists to write those tales, funds to produce, and an audience which will be receptive to such stories. Remember that NOT all American desis (yes, even those here for decades) approve of dating and “love marriage.” Sometimes the singles (as adults, of course) need to find the inner strength to go after the type of relationship that they want and maintain it, even in times of adversity. Arranged marriage is NOT guaranteed to be a succes, BUT love doesn’t always last forever either. Let’s write our own stories OR support creative types from communities of color (NOT just our own)! Dwelling solely on negativity gets us nowhere. 

Advertisements

My Fair Lady (1964) starring Audrey Hepburn & Rex Harrison

my-fair-lady-dreaming.jpg
Flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) dreams of a better life.

[1] From first frame to last, the film is slick, graceful, gorgeous to behold, with costumes and sets richly evoking the Edwardian era…

[2] The acting from Rex Harrison deserves high praise, it is effortless and believable. The same can be said for Audrey Hepburn… 

…despite his success, the experience of tutoring Eliza has humbled him. The end of the film where they show respect and care for each other was a masterstroke as no romance was needed.

[3] What Higgins is, in reality, is a misanthrope. A misanthrope basically dislikes and distrusts everyone! Watch the film and you’ll notice that Higgins treats everyone with the same disregard…

[4] The songs are extraordinary in their ability to enrich our knowledge of the characters… Eliza’s father, who calls himself one of “the undeserving poor” is one of Shaw’s best comedy creations… 

[5] It’s a momentous film but it has its subtle points: watch the way in which Eliza’s eyes are centered on Higgins when she enters at the ball, and the way in which the two of them stare at each other for a few seconds at the top of the stairs a few moments later.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews 

This is a musical that I’ve seen MANY times (usually w/ my family as a kid); I esp. like the songs and costumes. This is one of my mom’s fave films; she’s a big Audrey Hepburn fan. The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was inspired by a Greek myth by Ovid. Pygmalion was a sculptor from Cyprus who carved a woman out of ivory. This statue was so beautiful and realistic, he fell in love with it. When Aphrodite’s festival day came, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of the goddess of love, and wished for a bride who would look like his statue. When he returned home, Pygmalion kissed the statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that it was transformed into a real woman. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s wish. He married the woman (named Galatea) w/ Aphrodite’s blessing. 

You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady’s maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English. -Professor Henry Higgins declares to Colonel Pickering 

Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is no marble Galatea lacking agency; she is a single working-class woman in early 1900s London who has a job (selling flowers), rents her own room, and lives a morally upright life (she insists: “I’m a good girl, I am!”) She dreams of having comfort and love, as we hear in the song Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?  Some lyrics below:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Someone’s head restin’ on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Even in this early scene, it is Eliza’s will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn’t insisted on action… It is her ambition, not Henry’s, that sets the plot in motion…

Eliza’s escape from the “lower classes,” engineered by Higgins, is a revolutionary act… It is a lesson that resonates for all societies, and the genius of “My Fair Lady” is that it is both a great entertainment and a great polemic. It was actually about something. 

-Roger Ebert

After meeting Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza wants lessons to get rid of her (Cockney) accent. She wants a better job working in a florist’s shop. Eliza even offers to pay, BUT the elderly/kind Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) insists on providing the funds (even getting her new clothes). Higgins only thinks of Eliza as a challenging project, NOT an individual w/ feelings and dreams.

my_fair_lady_racing.jpg
Eliza enters high society by attending a horse race with Higgins.

Over 6 months, Eliza works w/ Higgins (and Pickering, serving as a cheerleader) to improve her pronunciation, vocabulary, and manners. At the races, she looks gorgeous in her fitted white and black gown, and catches the eye of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett). Eliza makes polite small talk w/ some society people, BUT then launches into a funny/inappropriate story from her old life. We see that though Eliza can pronounce the words, she hasn’t yet learned which words to choose to speak in high society. However, the young/handsome Freddy gets a huge crush on Eliza, as we hear in On the Street Where You Live:

Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live
And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear

Higgins (who Eliza gets to know by living in his house) doesn’t praise the hard work Eliza has done or see how naturally pretty she was (underneath the soot and rags). On the other hand, Freddy (a mere acquaintance) is VERY happy to bring her flowers and get a glimpse of her face. It makes more sense that Eliza would end up w/ Freddy, NOT Higgins. 

At the ball, Eliza is stunning (hair, jewels, gown, her dancing, etc.)- even fooling Zoltan Karpathy, the blackmailing language expert (and former student of Higgins). However, she is dismayed/saddened when Higgins gets ALL the credit (You Did It). Eliza becomes sophisticated, transcending the parameters of the professor’s test of social engineering. She resents this, so she throws slippers at Higgins. Eliza sees that he has his own social and emotional limitations. 

Higgins seems unaware of the place of women; in his mind, Eliza’s worries are over. Eliza asks him what she is to do with herself, now that she has become a lady. He says that she could marry.  Eliza’s answer shows that lower-class women MAY have a stronger sense of morality than most “ladies.” She never before thought of selling herself into marriage.

I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else. -Eliza explains to Higgins 

Eliza goes off to Mrs. Higgins’ house for advice. Sure, we know Freddy wants to marry her, but she’s NOT sure that’s the right step. (Notice how she tosses, then later retrieves, the ring that Higgins gave her?) The relationship between Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) and her son is humorous b/c the mother’s attitude toward her son is eccentric; she expresses herself w/ as much honesty as her son. Mrs. Higgins is filled with tolerance, intelligence, and imagination. Like Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, she was VERY concerned over the fate of Eliza from early on in the story.

Eliza’s hard work resulted in her developing an intense devotion and loyalty towards Higgins (and also Pickering). Maybe she’s NOT feeling a romantic kind love, BUT a strong desire to please? When the film ends, the audience is left to ponder what will happen to the characters later.  Now, for my younger sister, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins and Eliza would marry. I was NOT 100% sure though; it’s an ambiguous ending. 

When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on ‘consort battleship’ you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final ‘Buy them yourself.’ He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim ‘Galatea!’ (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and – curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too. -George Bernard Shaw in a 1920 letter to actress playing Eliza (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) 

Shaw asserted that such a wedding is absolutely impossible. He subtitled his play a “romance” b/c the technical meaning of “romance” refers to anything that was highly improbable (EX: the transformation of a flower girl into a duchess in six months). A romance can also suggest a “happy ending,” and Shaw is not interested in that. He wouldn’t allow his creation, Eliza, to marry such a misfit as Higgins simply to satisfy the whims of the sentimentalists of the world, even though these people outnumber the realists. But we know Broadway, then later Hollywood, had other ideas! 

 

June Bride (1948) starring Bette Davis

1948junebride3
A poster for the film

Despite the title, this movie isn’t really about a wedding, at least not in the way you might think. Instead, it’s a surprisingly biting look at a grown-up relationship set against the backdrop of a wedding. -Blonde at the Film

…the dialogue is terribly adult, taken directly from the play without much editing, often reminiscent of pre-Codes. June Bride is lots of fun and much snappier and wittier than reviewers give it credit for, though to be fair, it does occasionally buckle under the weight of post-war sensibilities. -She Blogged By Night

Independent, happily single women’s magazine editor, Linda Gilman (Bette Davis), takes an appointment w/ globe-trotting foreign correspondent, Carey Jackson (Robert Montgomery), who also happens to be her ex-boyfriend. Carey (after suddenly leaving the country a year ago) is eager to get into Linda’s good graces (admitting that she’s the ONLY woman who made him think of settling down), though she wants nothing to do w/ him. After all, Linda likes her life as it is, and she doesn’t lack male company. Carey negotiates w/ Linda to get a job at the magazine, saying that he won’t mind having a woman for a boss.

Linda, Carey, and a team (incl. noted character actresses Mary Wickes and Fay Bainter) go to Indiana to cover a small-town girl weds boy-next-door wedding. The Brinkers are a typical Midwestern family w/ strong values, a garish parlor (which needs to be redone), and two teen daughters (Jean and Boo), and a few secrets. 19 y.o. Jeanne (Barbara Bates) and fiance Bud Mitchell (Raymond Roe) seem to be VERY much in love and eager to wed. However, 17 y.o. Boo (who greatly admires Linda) reveals that Jeanne was once engaged to Bud’s older brother, Jim (Ray Montgomery). Carey (who was bored by all the wholesomeness) sees “an angle,” and leaps on it.  

It’s a light comedy, so Davis is NOT the first name that would come to one’s mind. But she wanted to make a comedy for a change. Montgomery’s character is a BIT egotistical, yet also mischievous and energetic; Davis is more business-like and mature about their (conflicted) relationship. If you like this film, check out Christmas in Connecticut (1945) starring another iconic actress, Barbara Stanwyck.