After Girls Trip and Catfight, this is the third, best comedy of the year. When the 2017 awards season begins for films in December, some are predicting The Big Sick will be the one that will be mentioned, possibly even going all the way to the Oscars. While I would prefer Kumail Nanjiani, a person of color and a Muslim, to get accolades and awards, I think this film is better. It’s better written. It’s better acted. It’s better directed. It’s simply funnier. Both films deal with a person being put into a medically-induced coma and the loved ones awkwardly having to wait in the hospital and deal with their relationships. The Big Sick is all about that. This film isn’t, but, in the brief time it is, it does so much better.
Adam Sandler (Big Daddy and Grown Ups) stars as Danny Meyerowitz, a musician who never really found success. He was married and has a teenage daughter named Eliza, played by Grace Van Patten (Tramps). She’s going to college to become a filmmaker and he’s recently divorced from his wife who supported the family, so he has to move back home with his father by whom he thought felt disappointed. They live together in his father’s New York home and try to reconnect after some distance.
Ben Stiller (Meet the Parents and Night at the Museum) also stars as Matthew Meyerowitz, an accountant who became a business manager for wealthy artists in Los Angeles. He eventually started his own firm and makes a great deal of money. He too is having marital issues but he talks to his little son regularly. He returns to the east coast to help his father and stepmother with their estate planning, including selling the New York home. Matthew also feels a distance from his dad due to his parents splitting up. He also feels a disappointment from his dad, real or imagined, because he didn’t pursue an artistic career.
Elizabeth Marvel (Homeland and House of Cards) co-stars as Jean Meyerowitz, a filmmaker who currently makes ends meet by working at Xerox. She has a very deadpan sense about her. A lot of that stems from issues regarding her father too. Her age is never said, but she might be the middle-child, in between her two brothers with Danny being the eldest and Matthew being the youngest. She doesn’t necessarily get a feeling of disappointment from her father but rather a feeling of disappointment toward him, emanating largely from one significant incident in her past.
Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man) also co-stars as Harold Meyerowitz, the father in question to Danny, Matthew and Jean. Harold used to be a well-regarded sculptor who worked mostly in wood. His pursuit perhaps didn’t make him the best father, especially since he never achieved the kind of success of his contemporaries like friend L.J. Shapiro, played by Judd Hirsch (Taxi and Ordinary People). Harold might even be slightly jealous of him. Harold has been married several times. All of his children might even have different mothers. He can be selfish, egotistical and himself pretentious. Yes, he’s also witty and verbose, and Hoffman’s performance is so endearing that one can understand the love-hate feelings he can engender.
Writer-director Noah Baumbach has yet again crafted a very smart look at the lives of a particular kind of family, which shares some DNA or echoes to his Oscar-nominated film, The Squid and the Whale (2005). Yet, there’s such a distinctiveness that I wouldn’t be surprised if Baumbach was again nominated in the category of Best Writing, Original Screenplay. I also wouldn’t be surprised if it got bumped into Best Picture.
Sandler gives his best performance since Punch-Drunk Love (2002), if ever. Stiller continues in his string of great performances that he’s really been concentrating over the past decade. It’s nothing quirky and weird like in The Royal Tenenbaums, although I got similar vibes here. This is the third film Stiller has made with Baumbach and this film is perhaps on a continuum with Greenberg (2010) and While We’re Young (2014). This one though is the better of those in that continuum.
While there may be oft-used issues or themes here, regarding parenting and how one was raised still affecting you well into your adult years, Baumbach handles it so well here. One strong element of this film is that of the prodigal son story. This story has been done numerous times. There was even a great version done about daughters in the TV series Greenleaf. Yet, Baumbach handles it so well here that it feels fresh in his hands.
Regardless, this film is simply funny, very funny. A lot of it comes through in the dialogue, starting with the opening scene, which establishes a tempo, a rhythm and tone that Baumbach maintains consistently from beginning to end. Some of the comedy comes through the performances like in Emma Thompson who plays Maureen, the current wife of Harold. Some of it comes in great gags like Eliza’s student film and Baumbach’s hard cuts to the siblings doing things they said they wouldn’t or sometimes they said they would. It’s just a great film.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 52 mins.
In Select Theaters, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Miami and Dallas.
Available on Netflix.