This one is a surprising parable for our charged political world. Just don’t expect a happy ending.
Beatrix (Salma Hayek) is a masseuse and holistic healer with a practice among the effete elite of Southern California. In their craven world she tries to provide balance, and they give lip service to her various mantras.
Her top client is Cathy (Connie Britton), flighty and enthused, who says Beatriz is “part of the family.” So much so that she asks Beatriz to stay for dinner after her clunker car breaks down.
The trouble starts when the guest of honor shows up. Doug Strutt (played with relish and depth by John Lithgow) is a bombastic, abrasive real estate developer who delights in telling everyone just how wealthy he really is. Sound like anyone currently befouling our national life?
Initially Beatriz is content to merely observe and be bemused by the shallowness of the dinner conversation. But she becomes appalled and saddened when she sees who they really are. Later she tells Strutt she knows him from somewhere. As she drinks more and more wine, she challenges him about a development in Mexico that indirectly led to the death of her parents.
While this is a cutting satire of the life of the cloistered upper class, Beatriz is not without fault as she gets very drunk and even smokes a little pot, unable to cope with what she has discovered about her clients. On the other hand, Strutt is not entirely unsympathetic, as he is clearly moved by her plaintiff singing voice. Even after Beatriz explodes when he brags about “bagging” a rhino on an African safari and Cathy tells her to leave, he gives her some sincere if unappreciated advice: “We’re all going to die. Why not enjoy yourself?” The logic of his cynicism unnerves her.
What might have been simply a story of good versus evil takes on a more subtle shading, clearly reflecting both sides of our politics. Strutt shows the worst side of capitalism while Beatrice plays its victim. How you react to them will undoubtedly reflect your own sympathies.
Hayak and Lithgow give multi-layered performances that are worth seeing. Far from being the earth mother of Friday Night Lights and Nashville, Britten makes Jane realistically shallow, but not a mere caricature.
Although I won’t reveal the rather abrupt ending, I’m still puzzling over what it means in terms of the overall message. If any of you have seen Beatriz at Dinner, I’d love to hear your impressions.
Romantic comedies seem like a dated genre, but The Big Sick has enough twists to give it has some heft. Plus it has the advantage of being a true story with the script written by the principals Kumail Nanjuani and his wife Emily Gordon.
Kumail (now on HBO's Silicon Valley) is a Pakistani stand-up comic and part-time Uber driver. He plays himself, which gives his performance an obvious authenticity. At this early point of his career he is low-keyed, but confident, .
Emily (Zoe Kazan) is blonde and sassy, and they hook-up after she calls out to him at one of his shows, what he jokingly calls heckling. Lots of banter ensues. As she is leaving his apartment, he tries to get her back into bed. She tells him “I never have sex twice on the first date.” Pretty good line!
Kazan is terrifically engaging with a mobile, expressive face. She laughs easily and genuinely. Kumail is a good match with his restrained style, and they blend like a long-time comedy team.
While he is trying to succeed in the very American world of stand-up, his family tries to tie him to Pakistani traditions, an arranged marriage most of all. It is a running joke that whenever he is home for dinner the door bell rings, his mother wonders “who could that be” and a young Pakistani girl just happens to drop by for Kumail’s inspection.
Suddenly Emily is hospitalized with an infection that baffles the doctors, and, surprisingly, the movie gets funnier. The main reason is the arrival of Emily’s parents played by Ray Romano and the talented and versatile Holly Hunter. She won an Oscar for The Piano, was nominated for Broadcast News, and received an Emmy nomination for Saving Grace. She has been under the radar for way too long.
Romano and Hunter bring some polish to the production. Hunter’s best scene is when she literally attacks a guy who’s yelling “Isis” during one of Kumail’s routines.
Emily’s illness gives the movie purpose and tension. For a time you wonder whether she will die as the doctors change their prognosis daily. Along with four strong performances and a sharp script, there's just enough doubt to keep The Big Sick from being sappy. But some conventions can’t be avoided. I won’t tell you the ending, but you probably won’t be surprised.