(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.
(Video on-Demand, September 2015) At a time when it seems as if we’ve seen every mob movie concept imaginable, here’s a slightly different twist on the genre, and what’s more it’s based on a true story. Here, against the backdrop of the 1991-92 Gotti trial in New York City, we get a sympathetic but dim-witted couple that decides to make ends meet by robbing mob social clubs. The idea is smarter than it sounds when the protagonist realizes that there are no weapons allowed in mafia clubs. Still, the protagonist makes plenty of mistakes along the way, and Rob the Mob is never stronger than when it can indulge in the inherently comic aspect of two small-time crooks taking on the powerful NYC mob and holding their own for a while. Michael Pitt is fine as the lead Tommy, but Nina Arianda is a bit of a revelation as Rosie his charismatic wife, while Andy Garcia plays a fine fictional mob boss and Ray Romano is unexpectedly interesting as a journalist covering criminal developments. The film moves well, doesn’t dwell on gore, makes heroes out of its unlikely protagonists and delivers the expected entertainment. As an adaptation of real events, Rob the Mob sticks to the main points of the original story –still, it’s tempting to say that a far funnier film could have been made had the screenwriter taken a few more liberties with the source.