THE WEDDING GUEST – movie review

IFC Films
Reviewed for & by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Screenwriter: Michael Winterbottom
Cast: Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 2/27/19
Opens: March 1, 2019

The Wedding Guest Movie Poster

“I’ve got a confession to make,” says kidnapper Jay (Dev Patel) to his kidnapee, Samira (Radhika Apte). “I can’t swim.” “No matter,” replies Samira, “I’ll teach you.” This is about the level of dialogue to expect throughout “The Wedding Guest,” a movie that does not do credit to its writer-director, Michael Winterbottom. Winterbottom, whose superb fare includes “24 Hour Party People,” (which brings Manchester’s music to the world), “Welcome to Sarajevo” (during the Bosnian war a journalist takes a kid from an orphanage back to England), and “Code 46” (a romance is doomed by genetic incompatibility), now is at the helm of a thriller with banal dialogue throughout. Actors have not much to do, and a pair of leads’ slow-burning romance never catches fire. What’s more there is little backstory to the Jay and Samira. We know nothing about how British citizen Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) found out that he could hire Jay to kidnap his girlfriend from Pakistan, where she is about to be wed against her will in an arranged marriage. If you know about Pakistani culture, you realize that a woman cannot refuse to marry her parents’ choice lest she be killed, as a refusal would dishonor the family.

This is why when Samira is kidnapped in the dead of night by Jay, she is both frightened and elated. At the same time that she is bound, gagged, and hooded by the abductor, she knows that she has been saved from what would probably be a frightful life, though when thrown into the trunk of his car, she has other thoughts about trusting the kidnapper.

Jay may or may not be a professional criminal with a major in abduction, but he’s in it strictly for the money that has been promised by Deepesh. Yet when a hunk like Jay gets to spend time with Samira, who slowly gets to trust him, you expect a hot romance to follow before she is turned over to the boyfriend. The first flirtatious steps are taken—by her—but despite her beauty, Jay seems reluctant to deal with her other than as his ticket to a fat payment. For her part, Samira’s feelings for Deepesh are not on the up-and-up. She, who at one point is called a “snake” by the guy who dished out thousands of dollars to rescue her, may have been correct about the lass. After some twists and turns in the script, we see that nobody is what he or she seems and everybody is out for something below the surface.

Given the absence of chemistry throughout, we wonder what the picture has to offer. Look then to cinematographer Giles Nuttgens to provide some awards-worthy photography in various locations in India, ranging from a look at fleabag hotels right up to Delhi’s majestic Taj Mahal digs. Filmed in Delhi, Goa, Jaipur and most impressively Amritsar where we get a shot of the temples that jut out in the holy city of the Sikh people, we have a view of both tourist India and what our president calls a sh*hole—the endless traffic of bikes and cars, the honking that fills the air, the shady dealers in forged passports, and one establishment jewelry store that cannot buy a diamond because it would not find a buyer for the $100,000 stone. When the Oscar ceremony takes place Feb. 2, 2020 and the 5,000 or so voters remember “The Wedding Guest,” be ready this picture to go to the top of the class in cinematography. Yet the movie fails to deliver passion or wit or thrills.

96 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – C+
Technical – B
Overall – C+

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY – movie review

WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY (Hva vil folk si)

Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Iram Haq
Screenwriter:  Iram Haq
Cast:  Maria Mozhdah, Adil Hussain, Rohit Saraf, Ali Arfan, Sheeba Chaddha, Lalit Parimoo, Ekavali Khanna
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 6/26/18
Opens: July 13, 2018

It’s lucky that President Trump does not read movie subtitles or he’d be sure to boot up “What Will People Say” into his propaganda machine.  With the backing of our reactionary Supreme Court, or at least 0.56% of it, he has succeeded in justifying his travel ban on Muslims in several countries.  So what would be better than to show what it’s like to try to assimilate people of a different culture from our mainstream?  Not too promising according to writer-director Iram Haq, a woman who is in her métier, having previously made the film “I Am Yours,” about a Norwegian Pakistani woman looking for love in the wrong places.

“What Will People Say,” or “Hva vil folk si” in the original Norwegian, is a thoroughly absorbing tale of Nisha (Maria Mozhdah) a sixteen-year-old woman of Pakistani descent living in Norway, perhaps since birth. Her father Mirza (Adil Hussain), who claims to live for his daughter who he hopes will become a doctor, is now doing factory work “which Norwegians do not want to do.”  In school Nisha has assimilated with white Norwegian friends, especially Daniel (Isak Lie Harr), a redheaded boy who has his sights on her.  One night, she allowed him to climb through her window doing some kissing, though when her father discovered the two together, he assumed that they had sex and gave the boy a beating while insisting that Nisha marry the lad (unusual, isn’t it, that he’s willing to allow a cross-cultural matchup so that her neighbors won’t talk?)

Nisha pushes the conflict up a notch by signing into a safe house, courtesy of a friendly social worker, but then misses her family, goes back to them, only to be kidnapped by Mirza forcing her to return to Pakistan with him and to put her up with his extended family there.  She is treated poorly by her aunt (Sheeba Chaddha) and uncle (Lalit Parimoo), is later picked up by her father whose plans for her are not paternal especially when hearing that she was caught kissing her cousin Amir (Rohit Saraf) and humiliated by three rogue cops who make her strip and threaten to put her photo on the ‘net.

Yes, President Trump, there is a wide gulf between the culture of a place like Norway (Trump likes!) and Pakistan.  And our President can point out that Muslims might put a great burden on social workers and teachers in the U.S. when cultural gaps turn bloody.  Still, Nisha dad is not an altogether bad guy, but his fear of neighbors’ talking turns him into a tyrant—though one wonders why the fight with his daughter need be made public, specifically his catching Nisha with a guy in her room.

Lots of comedies have been made about cultural differences between Christian residents and Muslim immigrants, but this is no “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”  Do not expect a Hollywood ending for this remarkable indie, filmed in Norway and India with English subtitles for Norwegian and Urdu.  This is serious stuff, an eye opener even for those of us who are already aware of points of friction between immigrant communities and natives, wherein in this case the daughter could be called a Norwegian native out of step with her extended family.  Top notch acting come from the ensemble with gorgeous photography of mountains in India, contrasted with the benign look of a village outside Oslo.  Special kudos for Maria Mozhdah in her stunning freshman role in a feature film which, by the way, is autobiographical (the director was really kidnapped back when!)

Unrated.  106 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – A-

THE BIG SICK – movie review


    Amazon Studios/Lionsgate
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Michael Showalter
    Written by: Emily V. Gordon, Jumail Nanjiani
    Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher
    Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 5/25/17
    Opens: June 23, 2017
    The Big Sick Movie Poster
    Terry:  “I’ve always wanted to discuss 9/11 with a Muslim.
    Kumail: “9/11 was a tragedy.  (Long pause) We lost 19 good guys.”

    This is just a single gem among the zippy one-liners that appear in “The Big Sick,” a gag that Terry for a moment thinks is the Pakistani-American’s true feeling. Kumail quickly notes that he’s only joking.  Though not very often, in fact only once, the Kumail is heckled at a comedy club for his ethnicity when he is advised “Go back to ISIS.” That Kumail, who is assimilated has eyes for a marriage-age woman who is white and non-Muslim threatens to turn “The Big Sick” into one of the many comedies about cultural distances; the older generation insisting that their son Kumail marry a Muslim woman just as his brother did.

    But “The Big Stick” is not one of those semi-awful, schematically spelled out conflicts such as the unfunny “My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but rather features a crackerjack script graced with a marvelous ensemble that mixes melodrama and broad comedy, and comes across like a hilarious memoir based on Kumail’s actual marriage to Emily in one of the most beautiful stories of love and its conflicts you may run across in the theaters this year.

    It’s no surprise that the movie, featured at the Sundance Festival this year, was sold for a hefty twelve million dollars.

    Presumably some Pakistani-American parents still believe not only that their sons must marry Muslim women.  That idea is taken to an extreme when Sharmeen (Zenobia Sfirof), who is Kumail’s culture-bound mother, and Azmat (Anupam Kher) who is his less rigid father, arrange a veritable parade of Pakistani-American single women to enter their Chicago home as if they were “just dropping in.”  For his part Kumail, who might otherwise choose well among all these beauties, refuses all simply because he does not believe in arranged marriage.  And oh, also he’s in love with Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan) whom he met while doing stand-up shtick in a Windy City’s comedy venue.  She heckles him with a big whoop; he  goes off script to chastise her even though the “whoop” is a positive audience reaction because, he says, that’s still heckling and that could throw off his act.

    The initial segment of the film is a comic gem, as Emily and Kumail play the courtship game, Emily often looking for a way out, judging at least by her playful hard-to-get advisories.  When Emily gets sick, coming down with a rare infection caused by her body’s immune system’s mistaking attacking her by mistake, she is put into an induced coma with a respirator.  When her North Carolina-based parents Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano) arrive at the hospital, Beth is at first wary of her daughter’s boyfriend but soon becomes attached to him, particularly since he has been patiently waiting patiently for her in the hospital.

    Director Michael Showalter, best known for TV acting in the likes of “The Wet Hot American Summer,” has a remarkable sense of comic timing, and gets such outstanding work from his cast that one can see this film already being considered for year-end awards for Ensemble Performances.  By “ensemble” is meant that each actor is given sufficient time to strut his or her stuff, and  Holly Hunter as Beth, with at least two other films to her credit this year, displays her charming, Georgia-born southern accent, often driving her husband crazy.

    If you did not have the good fortune to see this remarkable comedy at Sundance, you have another chance, lucky you, to catch the pic when it opens June 23.

    Rated R.  120 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?