The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani brings real dire stakes into the rom-com genre

The_Big_Sick_PosterI have been moved to tears and had my heart warmed by plenty of romantic comedies. But before “The Big Sick,” I had never felt genuine stakes in the genre until now.

Kumail Nanjiani has made a rom-com where the consequences and realities of the film are far greater than whether he and her end up together. Nanjiani grapples with race, religion and life and death all as he tries to tell a funny, modern love story.

It’s such a surprise, because “The Big Sick” doesn’t begin far differently from the films of so many other comedians who follow in Louis C.K.’s footsteps and want to tell their coming-of-age stories. Continue reading “The Big Sick”

What If

Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan have wonderful chemistry and Adam Driver steals the show.

While the romantic comedy formula rarely updates, the rules about love, friendship and sex must adapt to the way people experience relationships today. Modern rom-coms have been obsessed with high-concept rule making involving social media, texting and most recently sex tapes inexplicably uploaded to “the Cloud”, but they’ve never resonated with the Millennial generation. Our generation has fashioned itself more self-aware, ironic and cynical to all the social norms and barriers that define our romantic lives.

“What If” may just be the first Millennial rom-com, a spiritual successor to “When Harry Met Sally”, an often insightful look at the way contemporary notions of love shape our relationships and the first big studio rom-com in a long time in which every character in the cast feels like a human being.

It starts with the simple meet-cute of Wallace and Chantry in front of a refrigerator playing with magnets. Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) has just gotten over a year-long depression over a bad break-up. Chantry (Zoe Kazan) seems perfect, and she even gives out her number, just as she mentions she has a boyfriend. Continue reading “What If”

Ruby Sparks

Great fiction is almost always as good as its most interesting character. Zoe Kazan has written for herself a wonderfully infectious sprite in this film’s title character, Ruby Sparks. Her bright red hair beams off the screen, she’s charming as hell and we don’t seem to mind that’s she blatantly a mystical, hipster dream girl.

But the big problem with “Ruby Sparks” is that the film is really about Ruby’s fictional creator, Calvin (Paul Dano), and not her.

Calvin is the modern equivalent of J.D. Salinger, a visionary who wrote the next great American novel at 19, now plagued with writer’s block trying to envision the next big idea. Calvin’s surrounded by pretentious, faux-intellectuals and his shallow, sex-craved brother Harry (Chris Messina), so you can see why Calvin would feel like a hack if these were the people who admired him.

In a desperate fervor to understand himself, Calvin puts into words the girl of his dreams. In his imagination, she’s constantly backlit with God-like sunlight, and his vision of her is an amalgam of romantic quirks. She’s from Dayton, Ohio, doesn’t know how to drive, is an amateur painter, and so on. Ruby is perfect in all her imperfections. Continue reading “Ruby Sparks”

Meek’s Cutoff

I’d be lying if I said this movie was a Western.

“Meek’s Cutoff” is an indie drama that explores the pain of boredom. It is set on the Oregon Trail in the 1860s typically associated with Westerns, but it’s not that.

And while it can still be gripping, pointed and poignant character drama, there’s a frustrating feeling about illustrating the pain of boredom that feels more like the pain of pain or the boredom of boredom.

The three couples wandering the Oregon Trail is director Kelly Reichardt’s way of showing how any group of people going for weeks without water, without anything to do and without a sense of certainty as to anything can begin to weigh heavily on everyone. It’s not so much about the characters or the setting but about the burden it evokes.

In that way, you will feel a weight on your shoulders watching “Meek’s Cutoff.” The film is deliberately slow, with the opening shots themselves beginning the trend of a film that is quiet, slow, drawn out, distant and quaint. When we hear dialogue, it is often not of consequence but more atmosphere filling the void. Continue reading “Meek’s Cutoff”