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The Big Sick

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B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language including some sexual references
Profanity: Strong and explicit language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and non-explicit situation
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Very serious illness
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2017
Copyright Amazon 2017

The more specific the story, the more universal. This is a very specific story. Indeed, you are unlikely ever again to see a romantic comedy with one of the pair spending half of the film in a coma. And that is not the couple’s biggest obstacle. Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”), plays a character named Kumail Nanjiani in a story based on his relationship to Emily V. Gordon (played by Zoe Kazan and Emily Gardiner in the film), who is now his wife and the co-screenwriter of the smart, touching, heartfelt and very funny film. It is beautifully directed by Michael Showalter, as always unsurpassed in meticulous casting of even the smallest roles.

Real-life Nanjiani and his movie alter ego are Pakistani immigrants from traditional families. Every time he visits his parents for dinner, an unmarried Pakistani woman “happens to drop in.” They have made it very clear that they expect him to marry a woman who is Pakistani and Muslim. Gordon is neither; she is white and from North Carolina. Just after they break up because he could not say that they could have a future together, she suddenly becomes critically ill and is placed in a medically induced coma .  He gets the call when she is hospitalized and has to be the one to call her parents. He meets them for the first time in the hospital waiting room, where they are understandably frosty (he broke their daughter’s heart) and preoccupied (she’s in a coma).

They would rather that he not be there. And his parents find out that he has not been honest with them and they tell him they cannot accept his feelings for Emily. So, in the second half of the movie there is another kind of love story, about the love between parents and their children and the partners their children choose.

It is also a story about a man learning to be honest with himself about who he is and what he wants. What lifts this out of the recent glut of arrested development movies is its compassion for all parties (the film nicely acknowledges that Nanjiani’s brother has a very successful and satisfying marriage arranged the traditional way) and Nanjiani’s thoughtful, self-deprecating but confident performance. The best stand-up comics mine their own lives for material, with observations that make us see our own lives, and especially our follies and irrationalities, in sharper relief — that’s relief in both senses of the word.

Best of all, the movie itself is proof that they lived happily ever after.

Parents should know that this movie includes strong language, sexual references and non-explicit situations, family conflict, and very serious illness.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Kumail tell Emily about his family’s concerns? How should you decide what traditions to keep and which ones to leave behind?

If you like this, try: “Ruby Sparks” (also with Kazan, who wrote the screenplay) and “50-50” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, also based on a true story

Maudie

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B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some thematic content and brief sexuality
Profanity: Mild language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references including predatory behavior and non-explicit sexual situation
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, domestic abuse, illness, sad death
Date Released to Theaters: June 24, 2017
Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2017

Maudie Lewis was severely disabled and abused. She lived in a tiny house with no electricity or running water in the unforgiving climate of Nova Scotia. And she decorated her tiny world with vibrant, joyful images that captivated the people who came to her door to buy them, usually for as little as $5. Her home, the walls covered with bright flowers and birds and cats painted over 35 years, is now seen by art lovers in the museum where it has been lovingly preserved, and she is recognized as one of the foremost “outsider” (untrained) artists of the mid-20th century.

In “Maudie,” the infinitely gifted Sally Hawkins gives an incandescent performance as the woman whose indomitable spirit shines through her art.

After her parents died, Maudie lived with an aunt who treated her with contempt. She left to take a job as a live-in housekeeper for Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a fisherman taciturn to the point of being a recluse. “You walk funny. Are you a cripple?” he asks bluntly. And he tells her that she comes after the dogs and the chickens in importance. And that he expects her to sleep in his bed as a part of the job. When he wants more, she tells him that he must marry her, and he does.

With some leftover house paint, holding the brush in her arthritic fingers, she paints a flower on the wall. And surprisingly, Everett does not disapprove; he only tells her to leave one section of the wall alone. A summer visitor from the US spots one of her paintings and brings it back to New York. Vice President Richard Nixon buys one, too. Everett is glad for the income and worried that Maudie will become independent and leave him.

Director Aisling Walsh insisted on filming on location and created a meticulous replica of the tiny Lewis home, and the setting itself, bleak and beautiful, with minimal musical score becomes a character in the film. So do Maudie’s pure, simple paintings, expressing her unquenchable joy in observing the world around her and in expressing what she sees. Hawkins is a marvel in every scene; like Maudie herself, she commits herself completely to the creative spirit.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and situations, references to out of wedlock child, mistreatment of disabled character, and a sad death. Characters drink and smoke.

Family discussion: Why did Everett tell Maudie not to paint one part of the wall? Why did he change his mind about selling the painting she said was not finished? What was happiness to Maudie?

If you like this, try: “The Straight Story”

The Beguiled

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B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexuality
Profanity: Mild language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: War (off-screen), injuries, murder
Diversity Issues: Gender issues
Date Released to Theaters: June 23, 2017
Copyright 2017 Parmount

Writer/director Sofia Coppola has taken a 1971 Clint Eastwood movie about a wounded but manipulative Civil War soldier cared for and disruptive of the staff and students of a small girls’ school and reframed it as a story about the staff and students of a small girls’ school who care for and are disrupted by a wounded Civil War soldier. It is not so much telling the story of the spider and the fly from the perspective of the fly; it is more like telling the story with the women as the spider.

From her first film, “The Virgin Suicides,” through “Marie Antoinette,” “The Bling Ring,” “Lost in Translation,” and “Somewhere,” Sofia Coppola has been transfixed by stories of slender, ethereal young women who are a bit lost in a world created by powerful but inadequate men, and she has done her best to transfix the audience as well. Her next project, “La Traviata,” the story of a consumptive courtesan who turns out to be more noble than the man she loves, is certain to fit this pattern as well.

It is impossible to consider this latest work, a remake of a film directed by and starring two of the most testosteronic filmmakers in movie history, without that context. And that context is increasingly repetitive, with each iteration revealing not only the limits of the individual film but also the lacunae of the previous ones as well. What once seemed intriguing, mysterious, and thoughtful now appears, when the work is viewed as a whole, as superficial. It turns out that what was omitted was not because it was subtle and deep but because she had nothing more to say. While this film touches on issues of war (and warring emotions), it eliminates the slave character played in the first film by Mae Mercer, because there is really no way to do that relationship justice and any attempt to do so would throw the rest of the story off balance.

It is a pity, because she is just so good with the externals. The settings, costumes, music, and performances in her films are always superb, which makes the dispiriting emptiness even more disappointing.

Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) runs a small boarding school for girls, a retreat precariously close to Civil War battles being fought nearby. When one of the girls is out gathering mushrooms in the woods, she discovers a wounded Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and she brings him back to the school for treatment. Miss Farnsworth is not pleased, but she cannot turn him away. She treats him and tries to keep his presence as a male and an enemy combatant from disrupting the students and her co-teacher, Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). But he is a novelty and a distraction especially for those who long, perhaps unaware how much, for male attention.

McBurney has a gift for making each female in the house feel that he is what they most want him to be, from the teenager (Elle Fanning) to the widow (Dunst). “I’m grateful to be your prisoner,” he says. At first, he is gracious, unassuming, and charming. But he becomes a more ominous presence, dividing and disrupting the women until they take drastic action.

Kidman and Dunst are outstanding, representing two very different reactions to the intruder. It is precisely presented, even beguiling, but Coppola needs to move on or go deeper.

Parents should know that this film contains peril and violence including war (mostly offscreen), a wounded soldier, an accident, amateur surgery, mutilation, and murder, as well as sexual references and a situation, alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: How did McBurney assess the vulnerabilities of each of the women and girls? How does this version reflect our era in differing from the original?

If you like this, try: the original version with Clint Eastwood