'The Beguiled' and 'The Big Sick' Reviews: Yankee Soldiers and Coma Girlfriends (But No Alien Robots)
By John Boone
Photo: Focus Features
If you're in the market to watch massive robots level cities and various other historical monuments in the ongoing battle to save humanity, then oh boy, do I have a movie to recommend for you! But if you are looking for an antidote to summer tentpoles about aliens and monsters -- perhaps something more sinister, something with more heart, or if you just want to see a movie where women actually actually speak to one another -- might I suggest The Beguiled or The Big Sick (both out in L.A. and NYC on June 23 and expanding next week).
The Beguiled is a remake of the 1971 film of the same name, which starred Clint Eastwood as an injured Yankee soldier taken in by an all-girls academy in the Antebellum South. The 2017 iteration tells the story from a woman's perspective (that of director Sofia Coppola), which means the beguiling women within are given their agency and point of view and the movie doesn't begin with Eastwood telling a 12-year-old that she is "old enough for kisses."
But in updating The Beguiled for the summer movie season, Coppola seemingly felt no need to inject it with additional action or melodrama. In many regards, her version stays faithful to the original: In Virginia in the year 1864, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is taken in by Miss Farnsworth's Seminary for Young Ladies. There, reluctant care of John -- it's "the Christian thing to do" -- escalates to stolen kisses and erotic sponge baths from the Farnsworth women: Nicole Kidman as Martha Farnsworth, Kirsten Dunst as schoolteacher Edwina, and Elle Fanning as one of the students remaining at the school.
Much of this chamber piece revolves around blonde white girls being bored on a beautiful estate, but there's a certain titillating fun in watching the women shuffle around the home in their big skirts and bodices, throwing Civil War-era shade at one another with poise and restraint. And while swaths of the film feel largely eventless -- which I don't actually mean in a bad way, just as a matter of fact -- it is stunning to look at, with Coppola relishing in all of the beauty she can eek out of any single frame, and the acting is great, with Kidman's arch performance continuing a banner year in an all-around banner career. Then the lull of gauzy pastel aesthetics and murmured French breaks as The Beguiled undergoes a jarring tonal shift into a tense, twisted climax and I found myself screaming when Kidman purred, "Edwina, bring me the anatomy book."
The Big Sick is similarly historical, only in the sense that it's an autobiographical account of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's actual love story. Nanjiani and Gordon, partners in both marriage and comedy, wrote the script, with Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris) directing and Judd Apatow producing. Nanjiani stars as Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan plays Emily Gardner.
With an Apatovian sense of rambling, everyday dramedy is heavier in the earlier portions of the movie, movie Kumail is an up-and-coming standup who spends his nights in comedy clubs with his comedy friends (including Bo Burnham and a delightful Aidy Bryant) and his days trying to avoid his parents' attempts at setting him up with a Pakinstani bride of their choosing. Then he meets Emily, a psychology student, and as much as they both assert that their rom-com-in-the-making is really just a one night stand, it soon becomes much more. And then Emily is placed in a medically induced coma.
The Big Sick sounds too crazy to be true -- and so it absolutely is -- which makes it all the more intriguing watching the movie and knowing one half of the real couple is onscreen. (Nanjiani and Kazan have a natural chemistry though, and Kazan is all-around wonderful, especially in one scene where she tries to escape Kumail's apartment in the middle of the night because, as she eventually screams, she "has to sh*t!"). The whole movie is nothing short of casually brilliant, packed with instantly relatable moments -- all of the awful one man shows and standup sets you're forced to sit through as the friend of a comedian, the awkward late night Uber exchanges -- and a relaxed exploration of the religiously devout and those that abstain. Emily's coma -- which comes with the introduction of her parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano -- is a hard left mid-movie that could have easily dredged it into depressing, weepie territory, but instead ultimately takes The Big Sick in a realer, funnier and more heartwarming direction.