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The Big Sick • The Hero

July 13, 2017

The Big Sick (*** ½) R  

The critical darling of last winter’s Sundance film fest, The Big Sick, has finally arrived and I’m pleased to report that it lives up to any and all expectations. This is yet another wonderful example of a studio-Amazon Studios and Lionsgate in this instance-swimming against the glut of superhero and franchise film product littering multiplexes and opting to release a film that will appeal to those looking for something fresh in terms of movie options. The fact that it isn’t getting a wide release is a bit problematic. Still, it’s nice to see a film with characters/situations rooted in the real world getting a chance with a summer audience instead of having its release held back for a more prestigious slot during the fall awards season onslaught, when these types of things are usually released. It’s a strategy that, hopefully, will pay off and inspire other distributors to do the same.   

The Big Sick works on many levels and the most obvious being a showcase for its star and co-writer, Kumail Nanjiani. Nanjiani, in real life, is a comic who’s been making waves for some time now but this film is likely to send his career into the stratosphere. His performance in the title role is indeed heartfelt and utterly believable.   

Kumail Nanjiani & Zoe Kazan in The Big Sick

Nanjiani has opted to grace the lead character with his own name, Kumail, which should answer any questions as to whether the film is one of an autobiographical nature. Kumail, as depicted in the film, is a young up and comer with a dream-to make people laugh. Presently he’s earning his keep by Ubering and participating in nightly improv shows in the hopes that he’ll be spotted by a talent scout. One particular night the aspiring comic finds himself being heckled by Emily (Zoe Kazan), who’s stopped by to catch Kumail’s show. He connects with the girl after the show and they begin a tentative romance until she discovers that Kumail’s deeply devout Muslim parents have other plans where his love life is concerned.

Matters are further complicated when Emily becomes very ill and falls into a coma. Kumail finds himself tending to her and becoming involved and bonding with her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, giving it their all in two wonderfully written parts) in one of the film’s best subplots.     

One of the great takeaways from the film is the its depiction of the tug of war regarding family tradition and how it affects Kumail. In particular, the film handles the issue of religious conformity as expected by the parents in a refreshing way. 

Kumail’s parents never stop to think that it’s enough that their belief system works for them and they can’t resist cramming it down the throats of those who feel differently, in this case, their own son. This, of course, can’t end well.

One could say that director Michael Showalter and his collaborators are trying to illustrate the simple truth that sometimes one doesn’t have to look outside the family to experience intolerance firsthand. Although a bit overlong, The Big Sick is a hugely satisfying experience in a—pardon the pun—big way.

The Hero (***) R

Sam Elliot is a great actor, no question about it. I’ve often wondered what kind of career he’d have had if things had gotten started for him about thirty years earlier. As luck would have it he was just starting out as the western film genre was winding down so partially as a result the actor found himself in such undistinguished 1970s fare as Lifeguard, The Legacy and Frogs before finally finding his footing in the 80s around the time he co starred with Cher in the 1985 film, Mask. His new role in The Hero is the perfect summation of the actor’s career and a cinematic valentine to the man. He’s well overdue.

Elliot stars as Lee Hayden, an actor who’s been largely forgotten. The movie opens with an amusing sequence in which the actor attempts to do voice overs for a barbecue sauce commercial, barely repressing his anger when an off screen voice repeatedly tells him to do it over again and again.

Laura Prepon & Sam Elliot in The Hero

It’s quickly revealed that those commercials are about all that Lee has going for him. The acting parts have all but dried up and Lee spends most of his spare time smoking grass with a former co-star, Jeremy (Nick Offerman), from a failed TV show that once held some promise.

Lee’s life suddenly changes when he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s the stereotypical thing that we’ve seen in so many movies like this where the terminally ill main character, who’s made a mess of his or her life, must try to make amends. However what might feel forced or cloying in a lesser film works beautifully thanks to Elliott’s performance, which saves the film in troublesome spots.

There’s also a nice subplot involving the forgotten actor’s love affair with up and coming comic, Charlotte (Laura Prepon). She chances to meet Lee during one of his outings with Jeremy. Lee and Charlotte tentatively embark on a May-December romance that somehow feels realistic and not as forced as it could have been. There’s also another story thread involving Lee’s estrangement from his daughter (Krysten Ritter), which also works fairly well.

   The Hero is directed and co-written by Brett Haley who previously gave Elliott a great part in the wonderful 2015 film, I’ll See You in My Dreams. It’s great to see a younger filmmaker seize upon a legendary actor’s great talent even if his film doesn’t always offer anything new or earth shattering in terms of its insights into its character’s lives.

In Hickory, The Big Sick opens Friday, July 14 at AMC; The Hero opens at the Carolina theater in downtown Hickory the same day.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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