CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment
A STRONG WEEK for heart and laughs, and a word on the wonder of 35mm presentations in this week’s FilmSpace.
The Big Sick – ★★★★☆
Arriving this side of the pond having already been assigned the title of the best rom-com in years puts The Big Sick in a difficult spot. It isn’t light and fluffy, it isn’t disposable, and it isn’t background noise. It is an authentic (based-on-reality authentic), touching and human story of romantic and familial love and the challenges both within and across those relationships.
Kumail (played by Kumail Nanjiani) is a comedian in Chicago. He has his buddies in the comedy scene who are all vying for that chance to make it, while at home his parents are constantly trying to arrange his marriage to this conveyor belt of women. Every family dinner, a new woman. His family’s social conservatism clashes with Kumail’s obviously Americanised lifestyle. He dates who he wants, and ends up dating Emily (Zoe Kazan), who is very much white and very much not who his parents had in mind.
Emily ends up in an induced coma due to a dangerous infection, so Kumail is forced into meeting her parents, all the while conflicted over how to have a life with both Emily and his own family. A relative has already been ostracised for dating outside of their culture and Kumail isn’t up for risking it.
The Big Sick understands life isn’t as simple as one choice or the other when both lead to happiness and sadness and both can’t co-exist.
When it’s funny it’s really funny, particularly when Emily’s parents try to bridge cultural and generational gaps with Kumail. It’s awkward, but sincere. The film understands that just because her parents are older doesn’t mean they know any better.
But it’s a better romantic story, about not knowing what to do when the person you would turn to isn’t there. It’s clear they share a love worth fighting for, but so do many people whose relationships don’t make it. The Big Sick understands life isn’t as simple as one choice or the other when both lead to happiness and sadness and both can’t co-exist.
It is the rom-com of the year, but it’s one of the year’s best in any genre. It’s easy to sell these types of films short – The Big Sick is smart, funny, and has something to say about complex interpersonal relationships among families, partners, and cultures.
Girls Trip – ★★★★☆
Marketing Girls Trip as a female version of The Hangover is an injustice. Yes, it’s a riotous, rollicking, R-rated romp, but who’s telling the story is what’s important. Plots are recycled and familiarity within cinema is rife, and it falls to storytellers to tell those stories better, wittier and fresher.
The reality is the UK rarely sees wide releases of films made for black audiences. Tyler Perry’s Madea film series is practically unheard of over here, but he and his Madea character have been making megabucks for years on the big screen and elsewhere in the States.
And that’s not to say Girls Trip is strictly black cinema. But compared to the similar Rough Night, the latter has received all the promotion with none of Girls Trip’s acclaim. Dunkirk continues to screen over 20 times a day in some cinemas, while you can count Girls Trip’s screenings on one hand.
It is an injustice. Girls Trip is not only accessible, but it’s a complete success. Its four leads – Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish – are all so believable and inviting as friends that the film’s two hours are over in an instant. Their chemistry and comedic chops makes them a friendship group you want to hang out with all of the time.
Full-frontal male nudity, bodily fluids, and a creative use of a grapefruit are just some of the antics that make Girls Trip deserving of its 15-rating.
Tiffany Haddish in particular is outstanding. While her Dina is the least developed character, Haddish is a kinetic and frantic ball of dangerous energy. She would kill for her friends, and threatens to on more than one occasion.
Hall’s Ryan and Latifah’s Sasha butt heads over historical grievances, and Ryan’s seemingly perfect life unravels over the weekend while the women are away together. It’s a celebration of not forgetting those who love you and always have done.
That sentimentality is genuine (I cried) but this is also a gross-out, joke-filled marathon. Full-frontal male nudity, bodily fluids, and a creative use of a grapefruit are just some of the antics that make Girls Trip deserving of its 15-rating.
As a testament to its universality, beside me sat two older white women who never stopped laughing. Cinema goers rightly call for diversity, and yet with so few screenings per day Girls Trip is hardly being given a chance. This is female cinema, this is black cinema, and it deserves the praise it’s receiving for being both hilarious and moving without sacrificing one for the other. The only way to see more of these original voices and original points of view is by showing film studios we want more. Go see it.
Before Sunrise (35mm) – ★★★★★
Regarded as one of the best romantic films ever, Before Sunrise is an intimate and warm experience in any environment. At home it’s a personal relationship as electric as the sparks between Jesse and Céline. In the cinema it’s the feeling of a group of people exhaling and relaxing into the most wonderful night of their lives. It’s a versatile film that not only stands the test of time, but is strengthened by it with hindsight. We know where Jesse and Céline go from here.
These films that mean something to people are often given repeat screenings over the years, especially in arthouse cinemas. The Glasgow Film Theatre has monthly director showcases, with July celebrating Sofia Coppola, and August will be dedicated to the late great Jonathan Demme. Having asked its audience who they would like to see in this CineMasters feature, Richard Linklater popped up.
While screening the Before trilogy over a weekend isn’t exactly the career-spanning showcase Linklater deserves (and will undoubtedly earn), any chance to experience something this heartfelt should be taken. The first two in the trilogy, Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, were shown in 35mm as opposed to digital.
Dunkirk has brought this conversation that’s always bubbling in the background to the front again. You simply must see Dunkirk on film or in IMAX, says everyone lucky enough to have access to those screenings. The large screen and cinematic set-up aren’t enough – the image’s origins are just as important.
For a film already alive with love, feeling, and heart, it’s positively diary-like when the visual analogue tells are all over the screen.
And while it’s easy for snobbery to sink in, don’t allow it to be off-putting. A good film is a good film anywhere, and by its very nature so it adapts to its environment. I’ve seen Before Sunrise eight times in the last two years and this, my first cinematic viewing, was by far the funniest. The absurdity of Jesse and Céline encountering two actors, one of whom performs inside a cow, is less tonally jarring and more jolly.
All this is without a thought for the 35mm presentation. The Before trilogy is as tangible as cinema gets without becoming theatre. It invites personal imprints, making it a favourite for anyone who connects with it. That physicality is heightened in analogue. For a film already alive with love, feeling, and heart, it’s positively diary-like when the visual analogue tells are all over the screen.
Christopher Nolan is clinging to film to show what it can do in 2017 when digital reigns supreme. Music is already looking back fondly on less instantaneous times with vinyl sales through the roof. Lana Del Rey straddles the music and cinematic gap by evoking what these analogue presentations make you feel in her music.
The sheen of digital is undoubtedly impressive, and doesn’t dampen a film as good as Before Sunrise, but a film this good adapts and in 35mm it’s as if Jesse and Céline are even more real. For a film that flits between a fairytale haze and grounded romance, this sense of the tangible only makes you believe in everything in their world even more.
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