(Google Play Streaming, November 2018) As a genre, the romantic comedy will never die as long as it adapts to the times, keeps finding intriguing hooks and invests in its characters. The Big Sick is a surprisingly engaging example of the form, showing us contemporary romance, likable characters and an irresistible hook: What if a recently-formed couple faced the impending death of one of them? That may not be a funny premise in itself, but don’t worry: everybody gets better in the end. Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan are well cast as the lead couple—Nanjiani even playing his own role given that the story is loosely adapted from his own life. The cross-cultural courtship themes abruptly shift gear into more dramatic material once one of the romantic leads goes into a coma, although the appearance of their parents (great performances by a high-energy Holly Hunter—who gets the film’s best scene—and an unusually likable Ray Romano) add more complications to the proceedings. Since the film revolves around a stand-up comedian, expect a few one-liners and glimpses at the tough life of these performers. The good script is backed by strong execution that manages to find a balance between very tricky material. It manages to combine modern cynicism with earned sincerity, and wraps things up with a belated but no less effective bow. There’s been a lot of hype about The Big Sick as an independent film darling, and it admirably sustains it during viewing.
(On TV, December 2015) In trying to explain the mess that is A Life Less Ordinary, I’m tempted to say that one doesn’t become a daring visionary director without making a few mistakes along the way, and so Danny Boyle didn’t become Danny Boyle without making a few less-successful films on his way to Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours. A Life Less Ordinary could have been a frantic star-crossed crime romance between an arrogant heiress and an oppressed blue-collar worker, but the script felt that it was necessary to frame this romance in a fantasy involving angels tasked in making two very different people fall in love. You can see here the various frantic methods that Boyle often uses to shake things up, even though they’re not always successful. Depicting heaven as a police station where everything is in white? Great visuals, all the way down to the white stockings. Spending an interminable time with characters signing Beyond the Sea in a redneck karaoke bar? Oh, shoot me now. Ewan MacGregor isn’t much more than simply OK in the lead role, while Cameron Diaz gets an early borderline-unlikable role to play –far more interesting are Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter as angels on a mission, even though the particulars of their plot-line are increasingly ridiculous. A Life Less Ordinary is a film less ordinary, and it suffers from its own quirkiness, trying to blend romance with fantasy with bloody violence. The tonal shifts are severe and the whole thing becomes some something to be appreciated more than to be experienced: I suspect that I would have liked the film more had I seen it fifteen years ago. I also suspect that the film suffered from comparisons to Boyle’s earlier Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Not, it’s not as good as those two. On the other hand, it does have a considerable amount of (misguided) energy, which isn’t too bad. If nothing else, it can still claim, more than a decade and a half later, that there still isn’t anything quite like it.