Wednesday, 26 July 2017

The Beguiled (2017) (Review)


Sofia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled has been granted a feminist twist: the original Clint Eastwood-starring picture was told through the eyes of the lone male in a female boarding school, as was the case in Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel, titled A Painted Devil, from which both films are adapted. Coppola, writer and director, has decided to focus on the females populating the school and how the presence of a mysterious male in their safe haven drives them to desperation and blind lust. The Beguiled debuted at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and was selected for participation in the Palme d'Or, providing Coppola with a win for Best Director, becoming only the second female winner in the award's history.

In 1864, as the Civil War rages on, a young student from a leading girls school in Virginia discovers a badly-injured corporal from the Union Army on the forest's edge, who deserted the battlefield on account of his wounds. Amy brings the man, John McBurney (Colin Farrell), to the school for nursing, leading to a disruption of their cultivated harmony. Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) tends to the Corporal's wound, as the likes of Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and Alicia (Elle Fanning) begin to fall to his charm. As his stay with them is prolonged, lust and love get in the way and the atmosphere quickly turns deadly.

The Beguiled cultivates an intense atmosphere that is maintained from the first frame until the very last. Immediately, a searing tone is asserted that remains unrelenting throughout, making the audience feel edgy and wary throughout the period piece. As Amy hums on her morning walk as the title screens are ushered in and the camera creeps around the forest, the uncomfortable atmosphere we become accustomed to is first provoked, revealing a film that is continually flirting with genres; as someone who knew very, very little about the film (trailers had been avoided and the original had gone unseen), it works and being unsure what to expect works for a film like this. In one moment a historical drama, in the next a romance tale; one second it feel like a horror-thriller, the next it becomes a black comedy or erotic, provocative thriller. It takes talented hands to make every genre feel successfully tackled and handled, and The Beguiled is more than up for the challenge.

Rock band Phoenix provide the film's score: somewhat hauntingly, the soundtrack only really surfaces to highlight a tonal shift - like during an important moment signalling the beginning of the final act - but remains quietly, thoughtfully powerful and present throughout. Every now and then, the music will register on the slightly louder side and continue to inject that uneasy notion the film masters. Otherwise, the majority of the sound comes from the everyday; singing birds and crickets, creaky floorboards and the distant gunfire, signifying the Civil War that rages on, very much in the background of the film.

Coppola's refreshing new take on the film puts the women at the forefront - and what a group of women she selects to lead the remake. Nicole Kidman helms the group, playing the schools' mistress in a cool and collected manner; as expected, the Hollywood favourite balances the meatiness of the dramatic role with an uncomfortable darkness, coalescing into an unexpected humour, that shapes some of the film's suitably awkward moments. Kirsten Dunst, often overlooked by the masses, delivers arguably the most considered performance of the bunch, illustrating the displacement Edwina experiences as the group's outsider. And Elle Fanning, after her career-kickstarting turn in The Neon Demon, relishes in the role as the provocative Alicia, with a knowing wink and nudge in seducing Mr. McBurney at any given opportunity, matched with a fragility in response to her lack of experience and understanding. Each a powerhouse with a commanding performance, the trio deliver some of the best performances of the year.

Colin Farrell takes on the deceptive John McBurney with a confidence and mystery, crafting an enigma that keeps the audience speculating over his intentions at any given moment. In thanks to my own limited understanding of the story, it plays a fantastic guessing game to which ladies room will be entered and whether he is as helpless as initially implied. The younger ensemble are really solid too and while rarely given the chance to match the command of their more established counterparts, are bound to make ripples in Hollywood in the next handful of years.

Coppola, with her Best Director accolade to boot the film's worldwide release, does a splendid job at moving the picture along at a brisk pace (a slick 94 minutes, to be exact). Visually, it is a compelling affair, complete with wonderful sets and costumes. It utilises predominantly natural lighting to secure an appropriate period setting, accentuated by Philippe Le Sourd's cinematography. Coppola is very confident behind the camera, playing with angles and shots to further emphasise that restless and unpredictable atmosphere. Working in the tight environment also gives an opportunity to explore the claustrophobia, not only of the physical landscape but of women during the times and one that war generally prescribes - something similarly achieved in Dunkirk. With Sofia Coppola steering the ship, it succeeds based on her directorial skill and talent.

With so many elements of The Beguiled impressing, why does it leave you feeling a little bit, well, empty? The script's dialogue and language is suitable and clever, with a potent exploration of themes and dynamics, but it never quite achieves the depth that could elevate it considerably. With the tension building constantly, you await a satisfying culmination that never truly arrives; it builds and dips at a frustrating pace and leaves you pondering rather than fulfilled. Maybe its careful musings are appreciated by some, but the general consensus appears to be that the lack of depth and reward is a disservice to an otherwise solid period drama.

Where the blame lies for The Beguiled's issues is difficult to say. Maybe it is Coppola's soft touch and approach, or perhaps it is down to the fundamental idea to remake something and straying so far from the original material. Or, very possible, I'm missing the point of it entirely. Either way, it is furstrating that, even with so many boxes ticked (cast, direction and premise are all fantastic, as well as the art department who revive the era gone by), it leaves you feeling somewhat distant.

✬☆
(7.5/10)

SummarySofia Coppola's The Beguiled is a solid and entertaining period piece, helmed by a fantastic director and performed by a stunning cast - but it cannot help but underwhelm by failing to connect on a deeper, more profound level.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Dunkirk (2017) (Review)


Dunkirk is the tenth film from acclaimed director, Christopher Nolan, who has brought to us a number of ground-breaking cinematic marvels; between Inception, The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar, the man has continually proven to be one of the most innovative minds working in the cinematic landscape today. Dunkirk is dubbed as a war-suspense film, focusing on the World War 2 events that left 400,000 men stranded on the shores of France as German troops closed in on them, all while a planned evacuation is underway. Critics have been calling Dunkirk one of the greatest war films ever and the best in Nolan's glowing filmography to date - but does it live up to the hype it, and the attachment of Mr Nolan, has generated?

Told from three perspectives - the land, sea and air - Dunkirk documents the operation to extract the men and return them to the United Kingdom. Each of the story threads are interwoven in a non-linear narrative, covering one week on land, one day at sea and one hour in the air. Nolan's intrigue in time has been explored in the likes of Inception and Memento, with the twisty Dunkirk further demonstrating his interest in the idea and bold steps and techniques to explore it. A largely British (and Irish) ensemble cast star in the picture, including Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Tom Hardy.

Dunkirk in a nerve-shattering, unrelenting and intense cinematic experience of the highest, most sophisticated level. Without question, Nolan's picture is a sheer masterclass in atmosphere and tension, crafted by a brilliant mind and executed phenomenally. Of course, and completely unsurprisingly, Nolan is at the very epicentre of the film's success, writing and directing the piece in a way very few could even comprehend, nevermind actually effectuate. The man's imagination and creation is an endless source of inspiration and admiration; on screen, he produces visually captivating and impressive images, bolstered by his ability to maintain the inbuilt tension from first beat to last; off screen, and with a pen in his hand, he constructs an excellent script that expertly weaves the unconventional tryptic narrative and timelines.

Dunkirk's script is an unusual one: restrictive on dialogue and concentrating predominantly on its swirling narratives and the importance of suspense, Nolan treats his audience with respect, throwing the complex idea of non-linear storytelling at them with aplomb. Nolan has never been afraid to place a great deal of trust and assurance in his audience and it has certainly benefitted them, delivering a new wave of smart, sharp blockbusters. That exact notion continues here and the assumption that the audience can piece together the story themselves results in an immensely satisfying picture that only Nolan could nail. He makes it look damn easy too. Every compliment this man is paid is absolutely merited.

Complimenting Nolan's direction is the flawless cinematography brought to us by his previous collaborator, Hoyte van Hoytema. Honestly, can we just hand him the Oscar now? Against such brutality and devastation, Hoytema extracts the pale colours from the sky and the deep blues of the British Isles, to form a visual as stunning as it is powerful; Dunkirk could have easily looked like wet cement, dull and drab to match the bleak evacuation - but shots of the soaring planes and ships inbound cannot help but send shivers down your spine.

Hans Zimmer's sensational score is resolute, absolutely critically in cultivating and progressing the film's never-ending tension. Feeding into the suspense, Zimmer's hugely influential soundtrack choreographs the film and events, acting as the foundation for its narrative strands to dance around, as Nolan and Zimmer, together, ramp up the tension to almost excuriating levels. Something as simple as a ticking clock, in all its overuse as a cinematic device, is completely appropriate, heightening the impact of the race against time. Zimmer ensures the invigorating and enormously important use of his soundtrack never goes amiss and its constant  presence in the picture is one of its many defining features. Blistering and searing, the only thing almost as loud was my heartbeat every single time the soundtrack reached a crescendo. Give this man all the awards, now.

Another highly-praised (and deservingly so) element is Dunkirk's editing. Lee Smith's rapid-fire cutting and stitching together of the various strands and timeline parallels that growing cacophony and encourages the film to move along at the brisk pace it does. At just 106 minutes, the amount of ground and substance the film covers is astounding, but the editing plays a large hand in ensuring it never appears rushed, messy or hacked, which could have acted as a destructive detriment to the film. Thanks to Smith's control and Nolan's input, those pitfalls are avoided and the film excels.

As with most genre pictures, Dunkirk is a very loud film. It's startling and overwhelming, busy and frantic for the most part as planes fire and the soundtrack (and your heart-rate) builds - but its script remains surprisingly silent. Dialogue is sparse and infrequent, utilised as a method to convey themes of shell shock and devastation, to further benefit the atmosphere, tone and tension and because it is simply not needed. As explained, Nolan trusts his audience to follow for themselves and sees dialogue and language as a potential hindrance to that all important tension and the audience's absorption in the film. Nolan's bravery to do this, a way from the usual conventions of a film like this, is one of the many reasons he is so highly-regarded in the industry, by fellow directors and budding film-makers.

Dunkirk is really an ensemble number and it would be unfair to call anybody the lead, per se. Nolan's conscious decision to cast only actors from the British Isles proves to be an incredibly smart, adding to the film's realism - you genuinely believe this young men are soldiers on the shores of France, fighting their way towards home.

Those on land are a relatively unknown ensemble (for their acting, in the case of Mr Styles) but prove to be a genuine crop of rising stars. Fionn Whitehead has a real career ahead of him in the industry, and his ability to convey so much emotion, fear and naivety through a performances largely devoid of words is astonishing; One Direction member Harry Styles makes his acting debut with a truly credible turn as Alex, another solider fighting for home, with a growing paranoia brought through the effects of the trauma of the battlefield; Aneurin Barnard is powerful as the deer-in-headlights type, struggling with his surroundings; while the more established Cillian Murphy provides a complex turn that allows us to explore themes of PTSD and claustrophobia with a brilliantly captivating turn as a lone survivor.

As their superiors, the likes of James D'Arcy and Kenneth Branagh consider the logistics of a mission as huge and crucial as the Dunkirk evacuation, demonstrating the sheer weigh higher-ranking individuals were forced to contend with. On the sea, Mark Rylance leads the way with his son and ship hand, played by Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan, providing some of the most touching scenes of the picture. In such a confined space (and the film really is defined by these suitably uncomfortable set pieces), the trio provide some poignant moments that displays the effects of those left behind in the war. And finally, Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden command the air as pilots, with two reliably fantastics turns. It is rare to see a film with an ensemble bursting with talent with no clear lead emerging; Nolan cleverly avoids temptation and this never becomes an issue - he simply does not require someone to anchor the film, achieving that through his script and direction - and places two much larger entities are the major key players and 'characters'.

Home and hope are two themes continually present throughout Dunkirk, almost manifesting into characters themselves. Cutting through the horror and bleakness of war is this underlying inspiration and drive to reach a home the soldiers cannot see; their unseen salvation. A visual story, with every shot of the sea comes an understanding that home is just beyond it; with every bomb dropped comes the knowledge that hope will lead them out of battle - Nolan places this idea at the forefront of the picture and these ideas become as important as any character. Home and hope never leave the film's sight or core, despite only materialising metaphorically, with this extraordinary balance attained.

Dunkirk is very close to being the perfect film. Only a handful of flaws (very minor in the grand scheme of things) prevent it from achieving the superlative statement though. It has been heavily discussed in the lead up to release but I do feel that the 12A/PG-13 rating restricts it somewhat; I understand the decision to emphasise the suspense rather than the gore of war. in many ways, it should be appreciated - but the film strikes you as somewhat sanitised through its absence of horror. It's an incredibly odd scenario to find yourself in - it works for what the film is trying to do, be and say but feels like a missed opportunity to serve as a reminder quite how harrowing war was - but Dunkirk encounters that problem nonetheless. It doesn't cripple it but instead arises as a missed opportunity.

Despite so many successful elements parading Dunkirk as one of the year's very best, it is Nolan's control that allows it to shine and succeed; control of tone (something that could have felt woefully misguided in less capable hands); control of the script (striking a balance between necessary dialogue and suspense); control of sound (the soundtrack and mixing linked so intrisincially to the tension required); control of characters and performances (they are more representations of the various individuals found on the battlefield). I should be surprised at how assured it is - but I am not.

With Dunkirk's brutality comes a a beauty and with its complexity comes an understanding, resulting in a cinematic experience so considered, visceral and expertly rendered that it will be remembered for years to come. Dunkirk will be held up as an example of what cinema can, and should be. Many directors would love to have that longevity and appreciation for just one of their films - Nolan has, to my counting, a third in the terrifying, shattering Dunkirk. Go and see it, seriously.

(9/10)

Summary: Dunkirk is a film of extraordinary control, tension, power and skill. Christopher Nolan delivers a cinematic experience that must be seen to be believed, building the film (through his magnificent direction, smart script, the brilliant ensemble and Hans Zimmer's masterful soundtrack) to an excruciating level that only a master of his craft could achieve.

(If you haven't already, be sure to check out the ranking of Nolan's nine previous films to Dunkirk over on Through The Silver Screen, from a similar group of people who brought to you the Marvel Cinematic Universe Showdown).


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Orphan Black (S5E7) - Gaggle or Throttle (Review)


We were promised a good episode in 'Gag or Throttle' and that is exactly what Orphan Black delivered. Is season five matching the highs of seasons gone by? No. Does Gag or Throttle change that? Not really. But it does return the series to the season one/two vibe that many argue is the series' highpoint and places one of the most misunderstood clones, Rachel Duncan, at the forefront. Continually intense and reeving the series forward towards the grand finale, Gag or Throttle is a satisfying episode; and, for the first time in what feels like forever, we get an appearance from the five main clones!

Let's go against the trend and speak about the closing moments of Gag or Throttle first, because what a final few minutes they were to experience. Shocking, devastating and nauseating, Rachel's actions at the end of episode seven suggest a new day is dawning on Pro-Clone. Maslany's performance as Miss Duncan here, an episode after losing her mother and in the midst of experiencing a major identity crisis of her own, is perfect: as expected, she nails Rachel's physical and mental breakdown and realisation expertly. In front of our very eyes we see the transformation of a confident woman acting with aplomb to a desperate and fragile being questioning her role in the Clone Game. It all culminates in a blistering and eye-watering moment that while change her life forever and leaves us with an excruciating wait until next week, as we await the consequences of her actions.

As we have seen for both Cosima (Ease For Idle Millionaires) and Alison (Beneath Her Heart) this season, we receive an enlightening view into our clones' backstory. Rachel takes centre stage here, with an opportunity to examine her childhood, development and status as a self-aware clone in a sterile environment, paraded around scientist and moneymakers. As is clear in the those closing moments, it has finally taken its toll on her and the flashbacks are infused seamlessly, completely illuminating her insecurities; we know Rachel is driven, but not quite to the extent of killing one of her own; we've always sensed her fragility but her facade comes epically crumbling down; we've had the idea that Rachel wants to do the right thing, even when acting on behalf of the wrong team. Putting Rachel in the spotlight shifts the focus back to the human impacts and consequences and it really allows the episode to shine. All our clones are in a desperate spot - and Rachel too has reached breaking point, with a farther way to plummet.

Kira's stint at DYAD continues and poor Sarah and Mrs S are trying to dig for as much leverage as possible to get her out of her, particularly after Cosima's confirms Neolution's intentions to harvester her eggs to restart human cloning. We are given a beautiful scene in this episode where Sarah and Kira Skype and the latter attempts to convey some important information; their relationship has been continually rocky but this moment cements the mother-daughter bond Orphan Black has always mastered. As we've seen through Rachel and Susan, Mrs S and Sarah, Alison and her kids and, in a sense, Cosima and Charlotte, the show's examination of mothers protecting their kids and families is asserted further, a key theme that proves Orphan Black is one of the most feminist shows out there. It is simply another string in Orphan Black's bow and provides another excellent opportunity to let their arrows fly.

Alison (and Donnie) returns! Hooray! After a four episode absence, she returns with a new hair do and rejuvenated outlook on life; in the two scenes she features in, she is an absolute delight and threatens to steal the episode completely. It's been a rather dark and heavy patch since Beneath Her Heart and Orphan Black has truly missed Alison's ability to lift the whole episode with just a few minutes afforded to her suburban affairs and hilarious life. While I am praying she gets her bangs back as soon as humanly possible (and wish Orphan Black put more aside to cover the wig budget), having Alison back in the show is a joy - and it could not come soon enough.

Cosima is back on dry land after an escape from Revival with Charlotte and, frankly, the more time we spend away from Island Neolution, the better. Rachel is a much better fit for the Island, exploring her power struggle with P.T. Westmoreland and Virginia Coady in such a confined location is genuinely interesting; on the other hand, Cosima, her talent and her potential were wasting away, like a drain on our resources and time. Her reunion with Scott was a beautiful moment, with their friendship being one of the most enduring on the show and truly special to watch. We get a brief glimpse of Helena and it looks like she is ready and raring to make her return - let's hope she finally has something to do next week (even if her fate is increasingly concerning).

Gag of Throttle's direction is sensational. It is one of the most accomplished episodes of Orphan Black and helps skilfully blend the past and present with precision and sophistication. David Frazee returns behind the camera and performs some truly wonderful things; whether it is ringing every drop of intensity out of the final scene or highlighting the emotion in Sarah's eyes after her call with Kira, Frazee performs something rather magical here. He is a diverse director that operates incredibly effectively within the 45 minute he has and, given that he is returning in two episodes time, we should see more of his talent in the penultimate episode.

Mark's reappearance hardly fills me with excitement. Ira's death at the end of last week's episode, now confirmed, resting alongside Susan, was the perfect way to usher out the Castor Clones - so for another to return here feels like a poor decision. In no way a reflection of Ari Millen's talent but instead through design, the Castor clones are simply a shadow of the LEDA clones and too much time focused on closing out their story subtracts crucial minutes from the more important and exciting LEDA storyline. As always, those two elements are bound to cross over but I'm not yet convinced Mark's return is needed.

After the first watch of Gag Or Throttle, I was impressed; after a second, it became one of the strongest hours of The Final Trip. Whether it is because we are spoiled with the show, the one thing the episode lacks is a multi-clone sequence but even with our three favourites communicating over webcam, we ignite the spark of earlier seasons and the enduring theme of sisterhood again. In all honesty, it has been a rocky path for Orphan Black, juggling the pressures of the final season - but Gag or Throttle, while imperfect, suggests we are back on track - and, considering a teaser trailer has been refused to us for the first time in the show's history, Clone Club should brace themselves for next week's 'Guillotines Decide', which promises to be one of the best episode in the show's five-season history. As always, we will see...


Episode Grade: A-

TTMMVPAAFAMRP (The Tatiana Maslany Most Valuable Player Acting Award for a Multi-Role Performance): Rachel Duncan

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life (2017) (Album Review)


Lana Del Rey's Lust For Life arrives to us after the longest interval yet: almost two years since 2015's Honeymoon, her latest collection has been proceeded by singles 'Love', a soaring and anthemic ode to the important of love and freedom; title track 'Lust For Life', a dreamy and sultry collaboration with long-time friend The Weeknd; and a section of promotional numbers, including the thoughtful 'Coachella - Woodstock In My Mind'; the hip-hop 'Summer Bummer' with ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti; and the seductive 'Groupie Love'. Since her career-defining debut album, Born To Die and its extension, Paradise, Del Rey has struggled to match both the success and general audience interest in her - Lust For Life may very well change that and absolutely deserves to.

This is easily her most cohesive and accomplished collection to date. Each of the sixteen tracks that form the album are distinct enough to be remembered in their own right but form an atmosphere and tone that wonderfully elevates the overall piece. In a complete turn of events and subversion of expectations, a underlying optimism can be found turning through the whole piece, marking a new direction for Del Rey - an enigmatic woman known throughout her career for her revolving door of identities and sad lyrics. Lust For Life instantly feels like a labour and craft of love and happiness; yes, the emotional, heartbreaking Lana surfaces on occasions, but this is unlike anything she has done before. It breaks your heart, mends your heart and does it all again. It is simply phenomenal.

To throw a well-worn phrase out, Lust For Life feels like an authentic, raw and completely powerful effort. It has the ability to take you to transport you to a new world, and while Miss Del Rey, real namer Elizabeth Grant, has done that before, this time it is more profound. Below you can see the first ranking of all the tracks contained in the album, after a handful of listens, which is subject to change.

13 Beaches (5/5)
Love (5/5)
Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems (feat. Stevie Nicks) (4.5/5)
Tomorrow Never Came (feat. Sean Ono Lennon) (4.5/5)
Lust For Life (feat. The Weeknd) (4.5/5)
Cherry (4.5/5)
God Bless America - And All The Beautiful Women In It (4/5)
Coachella - Wordstock In My Mind (4/5)
Where The World Was At War We Kept Dancing (4/5)
Change (4/5)
In My Feelings (4/5)
White Mustang (4/5)
Groupie Love (feat. ASAP Rocky) (4/5)
Get Free (4/5)
Heroin (3.5)
Summer Bummer (feat. ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti) (3.5/5)

Average score: 4.18/5


Lust For Life has been in my life less than 48 hours but it is already a firm favourite in both Del Rey's discography and my wider all-time favourites. It may not be as repeat-worthy as the likes of Born To Die and Paradise but it is successful in demonstrating Lana's beautiful lyricism, talent and craft, as well as her unmatched ability to conjure a a near perfect collection, tone and atmosphere through her music. It takes over from Katy Perry's Witness as album of the year and acts as a beautiful showcase and assertion of her position and prosperity in the industry.

Lana Del Rey, take a bow. 

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Big Sick (2017) (Review)


ODEON treated audiences in the UK to The Big Sick for their latest Screen Unseen, a surprise screening event that only reveals the identity of the film you have booked tickets for when the lights dim and the footage begins to roll. Before the secret screening, I knew very little about The Big Sick (for starters, I had been calling it the wrong name) and aside from the generally positive buzz it was picking up in conjunction with its limited stateside release, it had otherwise passed me by. Was it worth slapping down a fiver (or in my case, my Limitless card) for this film? Or should I have called in sick?

The Big Sick follows the blossoming relationship between Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) and Emily (Zoe Kazan), an interracial couple struggling to contend with cultural differences, clashes and understanding. When Emily is struck with a mysterious, life-threatening illness, Kumail is forced to reconsider whether love is worth losing his family, particularly after meeting Emily's unusual parents - Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano). With his career as a comedian stalling and his love life being prescribed to him by his well-meaning but pushy parents, Kumail must decide what is best for him in this terrific little gem of a film.

Based on Nanjiani's real-life story, The Big Sick is as heartfelt as they come. What may be dismissed as a sentimentality to begin with quickly progresses into something far more stirring than its simple premise would give it credit for, crafting a rather lovely and warming picture. It shifts between genres  and tones so efficiently, pushing you close to tears moments after it makes you giggle out loud. By merging romance and comedy - two of the most demonised and divisive genres in Hollywood - The Big Sick manages to eclipse the competition, crafting a well-tuned and sharply balanced picture that is far more accessible by utilising both genres simultaneously, rather than relying on one more heavily than the other. 

In fact, the script in general is where a lot of the success lies. As well as the more typical themes of identity, family and love, beneath the surface exists some potent themes and thought-provoking content that instals the film with an air of sophistication and prevents it from simply towing the line. Cultural differences on both sides of the coin rear their ugly heads and provide some heady issues to explore. Racism, unfortunately still an issue in society, is thrust into the spotlight when an audience member heckles our protagonist during a stand-out routine, questioning his affiliation with ISIS simply because of the way he looks; before this, a well-meaning but woefully misguided conversation with a white character sees our lead questioned about his opinion on 9/11. 

Rather thankfully, the reaction to this comment in the buzzy screening was one of genuine shock, eliciting a number of gasps - but the stun was even more pronounced when he retorts with an ill-advised joke about Muslim's losing '19 of our best guys' in the tragedy. In only a game of Cards Against Humanity would this sentence be otherwise found. However it demonstrates the film's terrific ability and enthusiasm to tackle taboo and tricky themes that many other films would skate over or completely ignore. Arranged marriages in the Asian community are scrutinised in the same environment as white, middle-class privilege is, proving that the film really seeks to challenge stereotypes and preconceived notions some may hold in our society. Real-life couple Nanjiani and Emily Gordon, who pen the script, bring their real experiences into the frame smartly and satisfyingly and the film is all the more stronger because of it.

The Big Sick features four fantastic lead performances and a few decent supporting roles to boot. Kumail Nanjiani is very sharp as... himself. He remains endearing and loveable throughout, awkward and charming as he attempts to navigate culture and personality clashes, determined to please his family but live and love the life he wants. His wonderful chemistry with Zoe Kazan - who gives a solid performance herself - sells the film for all it is worth, ensuring you are as invested in their relationship as possible. They each have a firm understanding (probably due to Nanjiani's lived-in experiences) of how far to push certain scenes so, even in the more dramatic and darker scenes, the comedy is infused just enough to prevent a tonal derailment while never detracting from the meatier moments when they arrive sporadically.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are equally as impressive, initially building a wall in front of them that eventually begins to crumble as they spent time with Kumail over the course of the film. We see these characters mature in their outlook and develop their relationship, in an attentive and natural manner. It rarely appears forced and it always feels rather raw. The ying to the others yang, Hunter perfectly handles the emotion while Romano provides most of the humour, although each are willing to partake in the other's craft. The supporting cast is padded out with a fine mix of talent, such as Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff, although Kurt Braunohler is the certified scene-stealer, spot-on with his comedic timing and firing on all cylinders throughout.

Michael Showalter presumably operates on a minor budget with this piece (no production budget has been confirmed or estimated for the Amazon Studio release yet) but the results are skilled and neat. It purposely strikes you as a personal and natural story - at times almost as if it is in the style of a documentary - without flashy movements or conceit. This helps to cultivate the very raw, natural and honest story you are presented with, striving to demonstrate and place the story of the lovers at the centre. After placing Emily and particularly Kumail at the forefront, it genuinely feels that you know them as a friend by the time the credits rolled, from the long-running jokes to their personal quirks; while the performances are to thanks for that, it is Showalter's solid direction and helming of the ship that keeps it on track.

Showalter's direction, alongside Michael Andrew's chirpy and generally lovely score, bring the package together tremendously. It is instantly clear that those working on the piece have a genuine desire and care to make the film as successful and polished as possible, providing an instantly loveable, charming and delightful picture. It may not scream to be seen on the big screen and box office big or small, it is destined to find an audience some place down the line - just make sure it's sooner, rather than later please.

The Big Sick is weakest though when it comes to wrapping up its story. Simply, the third act does not understand how best to bow out, spending a long time playing and teasing fake endings for a solid twenty minutes. It becomes rather frustrating that after such a sturdy and pleasant experience, the ending is somewhat botched in the search for the most satisfying ending. Because of the false starts and general pondering of the final third, the film feels unnecessarily inflated and in need of a tightening that would represent a stronger end product. 

A handful of minor issues with the first act aside (most notably its slight conflict in discovering and asserting the most appropriate tone at the beginning), The Big Sick is a sturdy romantic-comedy that strays from conventions just enough and goes deeper than most with its thematic material to impress and stand-out. It is warming, thoughtful and charming film-making, presenting the light and fluffy elements of the premise alongside the sharp comedy and sobering themes that come with the true life story. It is very easy to dismiss the genre, but when it is as smart, well-written, clever and utterly delightful as this, can you really moan about it?

The Big Sick understands when the penny drops and lets it fall with a knowing wink and nudge, proving that comedic timing runs in the blood of the film, thanks to the wonderful actors that participate. It really is quite the delight, with a sharp and smart script that goes deeper than expected and impacts you harder than imagined. It leaves you feeling warm and glowing, a pick-me-up if you, like our female lead, are a little under the weather...

(8/10)

Summary: The Big Sick is a delightful little gem that deserves you time and attention. Its smart script, brilliant cast and potent themes challenge your expectations and present you with the perfect pick-me-up for the next rainy day.