In the past couple of weeks I had the chance to view two highly anticipated and critically acclaimed movies, Baby Driver and The Big Sick. Both films were entertaining in their own distinctive way, but they highlighted what I, and many critics I think, see as the main problem with Hollywood today. Let’s dig in.
Baby Driver is a movie that sneaked up on me, in that I had never heard of it until it was practically in theaters. It was directed by Edgar Wright, known for films such as Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. I personally did not care for the first two and the latter I found mildly entertaining, if only for the performances of Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the overall oddity of the story. Baby Driver concerns a young man who is financially indebted to a career criminal and forced to drive the getaway car during bank robberies perpetrated by said criminal’s henchmen in order to satisfy this debt. It is loud, obnoxious, colorful, violent, and basically an extended music video of car chases and shootouts choreographed to a rather entertaining soundtrack. Essentially a rock and roll music video with little time to dwell on character development, it’s like much of today’s music – mindless entertainment put together in a sterile lab specifically to kick the endorphin machine in to high gear.
The Big Sick is a movie that I had been anticipating for some time. Written by Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon it’s the true story of how they met and fell in love. Nanjiani, a struggling standup comic in Chicago, met Gordon when she heckled him at one of his performances. An unlikely romance – a Pakistani Muslim man and a American Christian woman – ensued, with cultural issues putting pressure on the relationship. Specifically, Nanjiani’s parents were set on finding him a nice Pakistani girl to marry – an arranged marriage – and he was dead set against it but could not bear to tell his folks. That pressure ultimately led to him breaking off the relationship – no spoiler here, as the facts have been used in the marketing. Soon after, Emily came down with a life threatening illness which forced her doctors to place her in a medically induced coma for ten days or so. During that period Kumail meets, and bonds, with Emily’s parents and ultimately confronts his parent’s cultural standards, at odds with his own.
I enjoyed both movies, in different ways of course.
Baby Driver was a raucous explosion of sight and sound, barely stopping to take a breath between set pieces. The cast was great and included Ansel Elgort (various young adult movies) as the titular character along with Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Lily James and Eiza González. The guys were essentially cartoon characters and the gals were the typical hot stereotypes Hollywood can’t seem to get away from, easy on the eyes of course, but with nothing really to do but look fabulous. The movie was an example of style being put front and center – hey look at this, ain’t it cool? – at the expense of a relatable story and characters. The theater I saw it in had the sound up so loud – proud of their new state of the art system, I guess – that I was tempted to ask management to turn it down. I left the theater feeling the same way I would after eating an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbin’s. I enjoyed it but I would not be dwelling on it at length. There is always another ice cream or other treat to enjoy down the road.
The Big Sick was a poignant, emotional story about two people finding love, despite not really intending to, and overcoming illness and cultural barriers to make it work. Nanjiani was cast as himself obviously, with Zoe Kazan playing Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, as Emily’s distressed parents, have never been better. Anupam Kher and Zenobia Shroff as Kumail’s parents and Adeel Akhtar as his brother were perfect and the culture clash was realistically portrayed. Directed by Michael Showalter, the dialogue was snappy and funny and the emotions were front and center. The film has a lot of heart and I had a lump in my throat through most of the last act. In fact, when the film ended I had to linger in the theater a bit as I had been weeping rather profusely.
Overall, the two films represented the best and the worst of Hollywood. On the one hand, a well written and acted story with emotional depth, and on the other a slick movie put together for the wow factor with little regard for anything other than the entertainment value. And the potential profits, of course. I heartily recommend both films, but if you are forced to make a choice on Saturday night go for some emotional depth. You can always have your ice cream down the road.