It's a Judd Apatow production. It's directed by Michael Showalter. It's gonna be R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Showalter
Can I tell you how much I love Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon? We saw Nanjiani a few years ago when Lauren and I went to the Montreal Comedy Festival. (Oh, holy crap. I just realized the connection to this movie. Small world.) I instantly went on iTunes and tried to download his album. No album. I tried Youtubing his stuff and there was practically nothing out there. But then he started to blow up. Perhaps it was his work on Silicon Valley, but I got to really know him through the Nerdist podcast network. He had his podcast with his wife, The Indoor Kids. It was all about video games and, while I really enjoy video games, I don't really have time to play them very often. The podcast was great, but I also knew that stuff I wanted to play would eventually get spoiled. Then he was a regular on Harmontown, to which I regularly listen to now. I knew about his courtship with Emily Gordon, whom I enjoyed on their show The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail. They are one of the few (this word seems cheap) celebrity couples who really seem like they are in love and will work to make their relationship. This movie explain why their relationship works.
My wife loves rom-coms. I just was thinking that there aren't that many great rom-coms that come out anymore. This is the exception to the rule. I think the more polished the rom-com, the more disappointing it tends to be. Maybe because I'm a dirty hipster at heart, but when a rom-com gets that perfect indie-feel, there is something special about it. I love Apatow's stuff, for the most part, and I actually thought that he directed this one. Instead, he passed it off to Michael Showalter, who has a really amazing understanding of tone. If you know Showalter's work with The State, Stella, and Wet Hot American Summer, you know that he tends to lean towards the absurd in his creations. But Showalter has a history of being able to adapt other voices into something that matches an authentic tone. Perhaps Showalter's work tries to emotionally distance itself from its audience, but he tends to get that not all of his works should be that. He might be the perfect director of this film. The reason is that this movie is very funny, but the comedy definitely takes a backseat to the narrative. Apatow would have tried to make this movie howlingly funny, and there are moments where I don't want to laugh. Showalter kind of gets that. The jokes are almost not left to the audience, but rather seem conversational, despite the fact that the story itself is about a stand-up. It sounds like I'm saying that the jokes don't land. They 100% land, but not in a way that waits for a laugh. It doesn't necessarily indulge the joke, but rather weaves it into the narrative fairly flawlessly. There are a few exceptions, but these moments are meant to break tension and that balance is extremely important.
The odd thing about this rom-com is that it almost isn't a rom-com. (Is that why I like it? Am I so broken inside? More at 11.) This is really about the relationship between a guy and his in-laws. You know what? No, it's more than that. It's about cultural values and how we deal with mistakes. There's so much here. But the relationship is still there. I'm going to take a breath. The Kumail and Emily story is great. Kumail Nanjiani has no problem balancing the fact that he is a good dude while stressing his own faults. Knowing that he is married and in love with Emily in real life definitely gives me a big ol' sense of the "awwws" pretty instantly. Similarly, they give Emily these moments that might be dealbreakers in a traditional rom-com. But again, these moments are humanizing knowing that it is a true story. Rather than make either of them overly desirable and larger than life, it feels about the genuine bond between two people and, if you didn't know the premise of the film ahead of time, you'd root that nothing would ever hurt them. Their dynamic is something really special. The movie had to Hollywood up the story a bit more than I would have liked. Nothing was wholly unrealistic, but there is this dramatic irony regarding Nanjiani's commitment to his family and their values. We know more than Emily does and, because we've seen the story of the man hiding a secret coming back to bite him in the butt. It's a real moment and there's nothing necessarily cheap about, but we know the character's flaw pretty quickly and how it is going to be his undoing in the end. But then it moves out of the rom-com storyline and deals with a man on the outs who learns to be genuine, despite parents who don't necessarily like him. This is how a man bonds with total strangers because he has to. That story is almost even better. The movie could have slipped pretty badly at this moment. Kumail could have been seen as a guy who is manipulating these parents into convincing Emily to take him back. That's a real fine line and I don't think the movie ever missteps with that. Really, Kumail simply allows himself to be vulnerable and I think that's an awesome choice. But the movie doesn't completely avoid that aspect of commitment. Instead, it handles it in a lovely broken way and that's pretty cool.
And then, when all is said and done, it also deals with mortality. I know that Emily survived. She's doing awesome stuff today. But watching this movie, the suspense of Emily's disease still manages to tear at my heartstrings. I'm 34. I have two kids. For the first time in a movie, I jumped between the perspective of Kumail and Emily to the perspective of Emily's parents. That's weird. I always saw myself relating to the protagonist. But in this case, I was afraid for my kids. That's pretty impressive, Movie. (I name you "Movie" because I lack creativity.) Similarly, I had genuine empathy for Kumail's parents. They are definitely portrayed as the more unreasonable of the two characters, but they weren't that at all. If I had to give a criticism, it does portray culture and religion in a bit of a cold light. Nanjiani is an atheist, so it kind of makes sense that he views his parents' views as oppressive. But the parents are never portrayed as monsters. They are portrayed as concerned and conflicted. They are given an ultimatum about a choice and they handle it, albeit dramatically and comedically, with a degree of grace. The concept of arranged marriage also makes for a fascinating narrative tool. (Look how flippant I am, treating a culture like it's quaint...) It does give a Western perspective on arranged marriage, but it never paints it like it is stupid. Admittedly, there are some jokes and, since I'm not the one who could be offended, I don't really find any of these jokes as inappropriate. But again, I'm not the receiving end of those jokes. I have to applaud not treating it as dumb. Nanjiani definitely expresses how much he loves his family, but just doesn't agree with them.
The movie was touching. I really love a lot of what I saw one screen. It isn't a perfect movie, but it is perfect for what it was trying to be. It had an amazing checklist and, good golly, I have to say that they achieved everything that they were trying to do.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.