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The original film The Beguiled was directed by Don Siegel and starred Clint Eastwood, from a novel by Thomas Cullinan. It was an attempt by Eastwood to do something more interesting than the man with no name and Dirty Harry. And there is something fascinating about it. Whether one likes it or not, one can’t quite look away.
The basic premise is that a wounded Northern soldier ends up being taken in by the remaining inhabitants of an all girl’s boarding school located in the South during the Civil War. The longer he stays, the more he arouses the repressed sexuality of the women, which simmers and simmers until all sorts of conflicts break out of the Southern Gothic variety.
The main reason for what success the original movie had is the somewhat ridiculous, yet effectively hothouse approach to the story. It was over the top, but took itself quite seriously, while having the advantage of Geraldine Page in one of the lead roles. As like so many films at the time, there was something of a drive-in movie feel to it, but with larger aspirations.
Sofia Coppola, one of our finest filmmakers, has now adapted and directed a remake. And it has opened with quite a critical reception, not the least is its award for best director at Cannes.
So I suppose I would have to say either you get this new version of The Beguiled or you don’t.
And as much of an admirer as I am of Ms. Coppola, I…didn’t.
What was originally, as I mentioned, an exercise in somewhat gothic drive-in storytelling, is now a fairly straightforward dramatizing of the basic plot. What you see is what you get. There’s no real suspense and an incredible lack of sexual tension, i.e., there’s a conspicuous absence of Southern gothic.
But without the Southern gothic, what’s the point?
The cast includes Nicole Kidman as the headmistress, Kirsten Dunst as a teacher and Elle Fanning as a nymphet.
Nanjani plays Kumail (appropriately enough, and dropping his Silicon Valley nerdiness), a stand up comic with a Pakistani background whose parents want him to become a lawyer and marry any, any, please just pick one, of the many women of Pakistani descent they continually set him up with.
Instead, one night he meets the about as white as you can get Emily (Zoë Kazan) at one of his shows and they start a relationship. But while Emily tells her parents all about Kumail, Kumail keeps Emily hidden from his family.
The first third of The Big Sick is a bit tough to get through. It has some nice moments (mainly with scenes of Kumail’s family life and scenes of strong authenticity revolving around what happens backstage at a comedy club), but at its center is a rather typical, sometimes laborious, set of scenes of overly cute courting with characters not all that interesting.
It’s your basic rom com 101.
But then the authors do something very clever that allows the movie to be more than what it is. They find a way to get Emily out of the picture, resulting in the rom com aspects going in the same direction.
At this point, Emily’s parents show up and everything shifts. And it’s not that they just show up. They show up played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter who have great chemistry together and are simply wonderful in the roles. The picture now focuses in on these three characters as they work through all their issues and find new depths in each other.
Yes, I know, it’s not fair to Kazan who is as good as she can probably be with her character, but hey, when the ship is sinking sometimes you have to toss some deadweight overboard.
The satisfying direction is by Michael Showalter.