The Big Sick (B). This is a pleasant and affable little romantic comedy with a couple of twists. First, it’s apparently based on the star’s real life romancing of his wife. And second, the main plot point is that the female lead (Zoe Kazan, What If) gets a mysterious illness that puts her into a coma halfway through the movie. After that, it’s mostly about the fellow, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, Life as We Know It) having to deal with the girl’s parents (well-played by Ray Romano, TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond, and Holly Hunter, Thirteen) while their daughter is in potentially mortal danger. Also, he’s juggling his would-be career as a stand-up comedian and his overbearing Pakistani parents’ attempts to push him into an arranged marriage. Not everything totally worked for me, but there were enough chuckles, and the leads were likable enough, that I enjoyed it.
What If (B-). This is a fairly standard romantic comedy, elevated slightly in my estimation by the winsomeness of the female lead, Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). Our male lead is a pallid, cynical fellow named Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, from those interminable Harry Potter movies). Wally dropped out of med school after breaking up with his cheating girlfriend, and now he has a dead-end job and lives in his sister’s attic. But then he goes to a party and meets a quirky gal named Chantry (Kazan) (yes, her character’s name is “Chantry”). Before you can say “Zooey Deschanel,” the two hit it off and he walks her home—to the home, he unhappily discovers, that she shares with her boyfriend of five years, Ben (Rafe Spall, Prometheus). But the emotionally unavailable Chantry still wants to be friends with Wallace, and after a second encounter with Chantry the obviously smitten Wallace decides to live in the Friend Zone and see how things go. It’s decent, as rom-coms go, and I like that the filmmakers didn’t go the obvious route of making Ben some sort of hideous jerk. But on the other hand, the cutesy scenes comes off as contrived, and the supposed-to-be-clever dialogue is occasionally coarse and seldom clever. So, call it an average movie with an above-averagely appealing female star.
Ruby Sparks (B). Okay, the premise for this independent flick is not the freshest. Calvin (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine) is a well-known writer with a bad case of writer’s block and a recurring dream about a mysterious girl. At his shrink’s suggestion, he starts writing a story about a stranger who meets him and likes his dog Scottie, and Calvin decides to make the story about his dreamgirl, whom he names Ruby Sparks. Lo and behold, soon after he starts writing the story, the girl of his dreams materializes in his house. Ruby, played by Dano’s real-life girlfriend Zoe Kazan (The Savages), is clearly a graduate of the Zooey Deschanel Finishing School for Cute, Quirky Girls, and after verifying that he has not gone insane, Calvin understandably falls for her hard. But Calvin is more than a little co-dependent, and when Ruby starts to want a little independence, a little space, Calvin is severely tempted to return to the typewriter (Yes, a typewriter. Quirk!) whence she sprang and edit that particular aspect out of her personality. I enjoyed it–Kazan wrote the screenplay and does a good job of making the characters behave pretty believably in a fantastical situation. Worth a look.