The Big Sick: Movie Man Jackson

Love isn’t easy. That’s why they call it love. Pakistani immigrant turned American citizen Kumail Nanjiani (playing himself) is looking for his big break in comedy consistently doing stand-up at a Chicago club and making ends meet as an Uber driver. One night, he’s heckled—affectionately—during a comedy set by Emily (Zoe Kazan). The two hit it off instantaneously and begin a relationship.

It isn’t without troubles. Kumail’s traditional Pakistani parents want him to marry in preordained fashion, and would disown him if they found out he was dating an American woman. Not wanting to divulge his new relationship to his family frustrates Emily to the point of relationship dissolution, who has already informed her mother Beth and father Terry (Holly Hunter, Ray Romano) that she’s seeing someone seriously. A most unfortunate event occurs that forces Emily’s parents and Kumail to be together, learn from one another, and keep hope that things will get better for the person they love.

“Based on a true story” is something hardly ever prefaced or alluded to in romantic comedies. Maybe more rom-com flicks should seek to do so. The Big Sick markets itself as “an awkward true story.” While embellishments are present, the relative accuracy of it all makes for a fascinating view in a genre sometimes devoid of them.

Something special can be seen early on in The Big Sick. From the moment Zoe Kazan’s character heckles and teases Kumail, there’s an immediate and—for lack of a better word, lovable—chemistry that provides the romantic foundation for the entire movie. Hopefully this serves as a launching pad for both leads. Nanjiani particularly, known for Silicon Valley and various bit roles in mainstream comedy, possesses the talent to be successful in many genres. Director Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris) is along for the ride, placing all of his focus on the characters, though he’s not without some nice back-and-forth over-the-shoulder camerawork in intimate scenes.

The first act is pretty straightforward, and if this ended up being a basic Jim-and-Pam “will they, won’t they?” affair, it would still be entertaining due to the aforementioned leads doing the work they do. But, the second act rolls around and makes an infectious love story much more. Writers Nanjiani along with his real-life wife Emily V. Gordon put focus on the culture clashes when introducing Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (strong work by both) into the film, which makes for early awkwardness which eventually transitions into acceptance and appreciation at a natural pace. The duo also goes deeper into the Pakistani culture, expectations, and self-identity placed on Nanjiani by his family. Some of it is amusing in its presentation, but some of it is equally emotional and very moving; a story that doesn’t need the romantic aspect for people to connect to it.

I’m all for improvisation in comedy, but not when it’s predominant and in place of an obviously weak or nonexistent script, which feels more like the norm nowadays in most mainstream comedy offerings. In The Big Sick, there’s no improvisation because the movie doesn’t need any. Jokes are well written, and there’s rarely a time in which something said or done by characters isn’t scoring laughs on a big level. Its comedy runs just about all of the gamut: dark, light, sweet, uncomfortable, you name it. If there were but one minor issue, the occasional transition from heavy drama to cutting it up in the comedy club backstage with hopeful up-and-coming comedians looking for their big breaks is a little clunky.

At the end of the day, The Big Sick drops by into the marketplace taking the mantle as the best comedy of the year to this point. But that would be selling short The Big Sick, which does a lot as an overall feature to put it on the list of 2017’s healthier quality viewing options.

A-

Photo credits go to abcnews.com, comingsoon.net, and burnsfilmcenter.org

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Fist Fight: Movie Man Jackson

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Today is not a good day for high school English teach Andy Campbell (Charlie Day). At Roosevelt High, it’s the last day of school, and pranks are abound. As the mild-mannered pushover, Campbell is an easy mark for students to take advantage of. Doesn’t help that everyone in the high school is up for review, which means possible job losses. Not something Andy needs with a newborn on the way.

A most unfortunate situation that Campbell has with the volatile History teacher Strickland (Ice Cube) leads to the latter getting terminated. Fuming, Strickland challenges Campbell to an old school Fist Fight. Come 3pm in the parking lot, the entire school is going to see faculty members come to blows. Campbell worried about losing his job, but he needs to be worried about losing his life.

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Unbeknownst to yours truly, Fist Fight is an unofficial loose remake/re-telling of 1987’s Three O’Clock High, and even 2001’s Joe Somebody. That alone should tell anyone that isn’t a movie that is looking to reinvent the wheel, just provide some moderate entertainment. Moderate entertainment might not have been seen in the trailer, but Fist Fight is moderately surprising in its comedic effectiveness.

Written by Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, and New Girl’s Max Greenfield, Fist Fight’s plot isn’t something to heap a ton of praise on, and the premise, taking place in one day, can get a little stretched in places. But, there’s nothing wrong with being simplistic. And, the writers deserve one gold star with the overall setup. By placing the film in an end-of-the-year, anything-can-be-done scenario, it allows the movie to be accepted in all of its zaniness much easier. And though there’s the requisite R rated penis jokes and toilet humor, some legitimate physical comedy hits the mark along with improvisational dialogue here and there. Any implied statements about today’s state of education falls flat, though. Blackboard Jungle, this is not.

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Thankfully, Fist Fight delivers on its title. Spoiler alert: There’s no bait and switch. What’s advertised actually does happen, and quite honestly, it’s better directed than the average Hollywood fisticuffs action scene. I hesitate to say that it is reason alone to give the movie a view, but, anyone wanting an Ali-Frazier throw down (which will be most of the paying audience, myself included) will get one and likely be very pleased with it. Hearkens memory to the 1995 end fight in another Ice Cube comedy, Friday. Not a bad way to kick off a silver screen directorial debut, Mr. Richie Keen.

The cast in Fist Fight doesn’t do a whole lot differently from what they’ve been known for in their careers. Good, if you’re a fan, bad if not. We all know Cube for being the angry, mean-mugging expletive-laden character in everything he does, and we know Charlie Day for being the loud, eccentric, weird sounding passive wimp. They resume these characters here, and are good for what they are, playing off of each other well. Of the two, the story is told from Andy’s perspective, and he gets more of a character arc, albeit a fairly rushed one in the last 20 or so minutes.

Side characters are a mixed bag. Tracy Morgan impresses in his first role back on-screen as an oblivious loser coach, and Silicon Valley‘s Kumali Nanjiani delivers straight man humor. Much like the leads, Jillian Bell has a style and delivery that can grate on a viewer, or ingratiates herself to a viewer. Personally, not a big fan, but fits in enough here. The odd person out of all of this is Christina Hendricks, more weird than hilarious.

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By no means does Fist Fight score a comedic knockout. But by the end of the film’s runtime, laughs hit enough to score a split decision.

C+

Photo credits go to darkhorizons.com, movieweb.com, and ca.sports.yahoo.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson