Movie reviews: Crazy Rich Asians and Searching

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to the reviews of TWO films that are equally just important as Black Panther was/is! Today, we are discussing Asian representation in Crazy Rich Asians and Searching.

IMDb summaries:

Crazy Rich Asians: This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.

Searching: After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.

Acting

Even though I usually start my reviews by discussing the writing of the film(s), I thought that these two movies warranted that we discuss the acting and the casting first. While Black Panther was a first big-brand film with a predominately black cast, Crazy Rich Asians was the first American mainstream film with an overall Asian cast (as the title suggests). More importantly, the film showcased the diversity within the Asian community by casting actors that were from or descendant from a plethora of countries: Taiwan, Malaysia, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, The Phillippines, and Singapore. The cast consisted of Constance Wu and Henry Golding (A Simple Favor) as the superb lead couple, and Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina (who was also recently in Ocean’s 8), Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, and Ronny Chieng among others in the supporting roles. Could more Asian identities/actors have been included? Yes. Did they have space for that in the film? Maybe. Did Crazy Rich Asians begin a process of change in Hollywood through which more Asian identities could be portrayed by Asian actors? I really hope so!

Searching didn’t have an Asian-only cast – it had a better thing – a blindly casted Asian lead – a lead that was Asian but his race never once came into play, played superbly by John Cho (of American Pie and Star Trek films).

What I loved even more than these two film’s (and their casts’) separately was the fact that the actors from the two films were so supportive of one another, especially Henry Golding and John Cho. Their mutual cross-promotion was one of the reasons why I put these two reviews together!

Writing

Crazy Rich Asians was a book adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name by screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. Searching was an original screenplay by Aneesh Chaganty (who also directed) and Sev Ohanian. Both of these films took well known Hollywood tropes and genres – romcom and thriller, respectively – and made them feel brand new!

In Crazy Rich Asians, the romantic plotlines and the Cinderella-like tale were not as cliche as I was expecting them to be. The story also had more depth and sophistication than I was expecting. Some great ideas about the differences between Asian experiences (as a native and an immigrant/old culture vs new culture) were also expressed and added layers to the story.

Searching had a great showcase of father’s love and determination. On the flip side, it also showed the negative side of a parent’s love and how that love and ‘everything for one’s child’ attitude might be quite damaging. The end reveal of the plot was quite surprising and I don’t know if it worked completely. Nevertheless, it allowed the movie to look at a couple of more issues – toxic masculinity and obsessive relationships.

Directing

John M.Chu (of Step Up and Now You See Me 2) directed Crazy Rich Asians, while Aneesh Chaganty helmed Searching (both directors are also of Asian descent!). Chu handled the world building of Singapore beautifully (the glamour of the culture itself + rich setting made for a neat world to vicariously live in for the audiences a.k.a. me) and also nailed the pacing and the comedic timing of the film. My one critique was that the movie might have been a touch too long.

Chaganty and cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron made Searching unique by having so much of that film be portrayed with screens on the cinema screen: the opening montage was just brilliant. I never thought that the movie portrayed through social media and technology (screens within the screen) could be so compelling and intense.

In short, Crazy Rich Asians and Searching were two films that not only did a lot in terms of representing an underappreciated group of actors and audiences but were just great movies in general!

Rate: both at 4.5/5

Trailers: Crazy Rich Asians trailer | Searching trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Home Again

Movie reviews

Hello!

Home Again is trying to prove that the rom-com genre is not dead yet. Or is it?

IMDb summary: Life for a single mom in Los Angeles takes an unexpected turn when she allows three young guys to move in with her.

  1. Home Again is a directorial (and writing) debut of Hallie Meyers-Shyer, the daughter of Nancy Meyers – producer and director of various successful rom-coms (she produced her daughter’s first film too). The fact that it is somebody’s first movie explains a lot about it: Home Again was cliched, predictable, cringe-y at times, and real slow at others and, lastly, mostly consisted of elements and plot-points borrowed from other similar films. And yet, I didn’t hate it. If somebody needs an escapist, ‘no-thinking-required’ type of a film to relieve some stress or quiet one’s mind, I recommend you to see Home Again and experience somebody else’s first world problems instead of your own.
  2. The movie tackled three broad ideas: it attempted to be a traditional rom-com, with some sitcom humor, while also being a picture about the film business. Let’s start with that last part, which was, unsurprisingly, my favorite. As a cinephile, I appreciate films which appreciate films. The LA setting, the father director (who looked/came across as pre-Star Wars George Lucas), the aspiring filmmaker characters and their attempt to make a movie were all elements which I adored.
  3. The two other concepts/genres weren’t bad either (but, as I’ve said, nothing remotely original too). I liked the sitcom parts best out of the two, especially the silent reaction faces that the characters would exchange (then again, I love real-life humor). The romcom part was fine too. A bit fairytale-ish but we are talking escapism here (at least they left the ‘happy ending’ slightly ambiguous). By far the best detail of the romantic comedy side of Home Again was the reversal of the trope of the age difference between the two genders: the female character was the older one in a relationship (that is still very much a taboo thing – just look at all the news coverage about the fact that France’s president’s wife is older than him).
  4. The main thing that made Home Again work was its star – Reese Witherspoon (Sing). She has moved away from romcoms and came back to them constantly throughout her career. This instance of return was somewhat successful. She brought some heart into an otherwise shallow picture and was extremely lovable in her role, despite how cliche it was (I mean, are there any other occupations for mothers besides interior design ???).
  5. The film’s supporting cast wasn’t bad either and their performances were fine (again, appropriate for the picture). Nat Wolff (the most well-known out of the three co-leads because of TFIOS, Paper Towns, and Death Note), SNL alumni Jon Rudnitsky and quite an unknown actor Pico Alexander (who has the potential to be the next teen heartthrob) were all fun to watch. For some reason, Michael Sheen (Far From The Madding Crowd, Passengers, Nocturnal Animals) and TV royalty Candice Bergen also appeared in the movie (‘paycheck gigs pay the bills!’).

In short, Home Again is a perfectly serviceable rom-com that you have seen before. It’s a great rental/TV-rerun: a good background movie or a laundry/cooking movie. If you want a more modern take on the genre, check out The Big Sick

Rate: 2.8/5

Trailer: Home Again trailer

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Movie review: The Big Sick

Movie reviews

Hello!

I had a chance to watch, probably, the most original film of the year and I really want to talk about it. It’s The Big Sick!

IMDb summary: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gordon fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings.

Writing

The Big Sick was written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. They based the script of their actual relationship and Nanjiani also portrayed a version of himself in the film. Gordon has mostly written for TV before, while Nanjiani has done a lot of acting and writing for TV too. The Big Sick was their biggest writing project to date.

The aspect of the film, which has been discussed the most, was its diversity or, more specifically, the ethnicity/race of the main character/actor as well as the cultural commentary provided by the movie. Everyone in the industry was super surprised that a movie with a Pakistani-American actor in the lead could succeed financially (critical success seemed more plausible) or that audiences were actually interested in a different culture.

On top of being interested in a different culture, audiences just usually look for a quality film to watch, and The Big Sick was exactly that. I thought that it had one of the best scripts of the recent romance films because the relationship was written in a realistic manner. The dialogue between the two people was fresh and actually sounded like an interaction between real people: it had moments of awkwardness and comfort, fun and absurdity but was also very sincere. The slight gendered bickering wasn’t out of place either and felt like a believable part of a modern relationship. The cinematic cliches (e.g. a guy listening to the girl’s voicemails after the breakup) didn’t look forced or cringy but actually seemed cute and natural. Lastly, the way Gordon and Nanjiani wrote the ending of the film was just absolutely brilliant. They didn’t go for a grand reveal and an instant fairy tale conclusion but crafted a realistic ending to a relationship – the kind that people have to work for.

Speaking about the portrayal of a different culture, I thought that The Big Sick was very successful in that aspect. I loved how the film presented a varied Pakistani-Muslim community, with some people keeping up with the traditions more and some less. It was also very thoughtful of the movie to showcase a successful arranged marriage (while it might not be for everyone, it can also bring happiness). In addition, I loved how the movie wasn’t afraid to not just present the culture but to critique it (or even joke about it). One of the best moments in the picture was the scene where Nanjiani’s character voiced his doubts about the culture (are the American lifestyle and the Muslim culture at all compatabile?). I loved how in that moment, he both remained respectful of the culture but also wasn’t blinded by it and underscored the importance of his own personal experience. The inclusion of Nanjiani’s career plot-line into the picture also helped to interrogate the culture from more than not just the romance angle, while it also made the story richer and elevated the whole movie.

Another unique part of the film was Nanjiani’s character’s bonding time with his girlfriend’s parents (I haven’t seen anything similar in recent times or maybe ever). Their conversations were really genuine but also fun. The scene of the mother character showing her daughter’s childhood pictures to the boyfriend was so true to life. The way the parent characters were written to behave at the hospital – writing everything down and googling the symptoms – added another layer of realism to the film too. My only slight gripe was the fact that I didn’t think that the inner problems of the parent’s relationship were necessary. However, their addition to the movie didn’t detract from the main relationship too much.

Directing

The Big Sick was directed by Michael Showalter whose previous picture was also a romantic comedy – Hello, My Name is Doris, which was as unique as The Big Sick. Both of these pictures focused on unconventional romantic pairings, be it because of the age or ethnicity of individuals in the relationship.

I thought that Showalter did a very good job directing The Big Sick. I liked the overall aura of the film: it had the authenticity of a documentary film but was approachable as a narrative film. Plus, although it was an indie picture, it had the continuity and flow of a mainstream romantic comedy.

Moreover, The Big Sick was very nicely paced: the story progressed slowly but never dragged, instead, the movie cleverly took its time to build an emotional core of the narrative. The reveals in the story also came organically and weren’t shocking just for the sake of being shocking. Alternatively, they were, again, more focused on the sentimental impact.

Acting

  • Kumail Nanjiani had a few minor roles on the big screen prior to this picture, though he was most well known for being on the main cast of Silicon Valley (a series that I have yet to watch). I wonder how was it for him to play a version of himself – whether it was easy or extremely difficult and whether he had to withhold or embellish his personality for the camera. Overall, I believe that he portrayed the character’s arc very concincigly and I hope that this film’s success can lead to more movie roles for him.
  • Zoe Kazan was also very good in the picture. Her and Nanjiani’s chemistry was amazing too. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano starred as the parent and did a nice job as well. It was delightful to see Hunter in a better film than her last one (BvS) and Romano actually appearing on the screen instead of just voicing the mammoth in the endless Ice Age movies. Lastly, the film’s cast was rounded out by a whole bunch of stand-up comedians, who all delivered excellent performances.

In brief, The Big Sick is one of the most unique romantic comedies I have ever seen. Not only does it have a fresh perspective and an original concept to explore, it is simply just a very well made movie.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Big Sick trailer

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