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Posts Tagged ‘Zoe Kazan’

Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould, JakeGyllenhaal

“WILDLIFE”  My rating: B+

114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In “Wildlife,” the  mesmerizing directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, people — adults, anyway — are perplexing creatures.

A father loses his job at a country club and instead of launching a job search abandons his family for immensely dangerous and low-paying work fighting forest fires. The bitter mother flips almost overnight from June Cleaver domesticity to provocative sexuality.

These near-radical personality changes are hard to fathom — until you realize that Dano’s film (co-written with actress Zoe Kazan from Richard Ford’s novel) centers on the perceptions of the couple’s 14-year-old son. Seen through the kid’s bewildered and traumatized eyes, even the slightest change in familial surroundings registers like an earthquake.

Set in the early 1950s, the film begins with Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) losing his job as the golf pro in a small Montana town.  His wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), who never wanted to move there in the first place, does her best to beef up Jerry’s battered ego and even rejoins the workforce, teaching adult swim classes at the local Y.

All this is tremendously worrying for their 14-year-old son, Joe (a spectacularly good Ed Oxenbould). It’s hard seeing your once-upbeat dad sinking into depression and ennui. And while Mom seems to be enjoying her new economic independence, even that has a downside. She’s not at home all that much.

But Joe’s a good kid and, to help prop up the family’s failing fortunes, signs on as an assistant at the local photographic portrait studio.

Jerry’s decision to join a firefighting crew battling the stubborn blaze — which has burned for weeks in a nearby mountain range, threatening the town not only with flames but lung-congesting smoke — comes as a shock to Jeanette and Joe.  People are getting burned up fighting the conflagration.

“What kind of man leaves his wife and child in such a lonely place?” Jeanette seethes. The poetic theatricality of that line of dialogue (would your average wife phrase it in just that way?) suggests it has been refliltered through Joe’s tormented imagination and memory.

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Zoe Kazan, Kumail Nanjiani

“THE BIG SICK”  My rating: B 

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Romantic comedy is so ubiquitous — so familiar and overworked and recycled — that nobody expects originality from the genre.

Then along comes “The Big Sick” to take us by surprise.

Directed by Michael Showalter, produced by Judd Apatow and penned by stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani and his wife, Emily V. Gordon, the film starts out in familiar boy-meets-girl territory only to take us to unexpected places.

Nanjiani, a regular on cable’s “Silicon Valley,” is a Pakistani who came to the U.S. for college. Here he plays a slightly fictionalized version of himself, also named Kumail.

The film’s first hour will seem more than a little familiar to fans of “Master of None,” the much-awarded Netflix comedy from Aziz Ansari, the son of Indian immigrants.

While working as an Uber driver, Kumail struggles to make it on the comedy circuit, determined not to rely too much on his ethnicity for laugh fodder. His deadpan persona is belied by the dry hilarity of his zingers.

His mother and father (Zenobia Shroff, Anupam Kher) expect him to be a good Muslim (when visiting them, Kumail dutifully retreats to the basement with his prayer rug but spends his time there digging through boxes of childhood belongings).

Moreover, our hero is subjected to a steady stream of available Pakistani woman (they exhibit everything from firm self-confidence to embarrassment and desperation) who just happen to be in the neighborhood when he’s having dinner with the folks.

Kumail hasn’t the heart to announce that he’s not interested in a traditional arranged marriage.

Romance intervenes with Emily (Zoe Kazan), who gently heckles Kumail during a show then sticks around for a little intense cross-cultural interaction.  In one of the film’s goofiest moments, she decides to end their night of passion by calling for a ride; since he’s the closest Uber driver, his cellphone goes off. (more…)

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