This Is a Movie Review: ‘Incredibles 2’ Uses Its Period Setting and the Responsibility of Superpowers to Show How to Be an Adult

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©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2018.

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr, Isabella Rossellini, John Ratzenberger, Bill Wise

Director: Brad Bird

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: PG for Action Sequences Involving Dangerously Heavy Structures

Release Date: June 15, 2018

The Incredibles films stick out among Pixar’s oeuvre for how much more adult they are than the rest of the animation brand’s features. That is not to say that everything else is merely kids’ stuff. Indeed, there is plenty for audiences of all ages to appreciate in the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, etc. The difference is that the typical Pixar offering features childlike wonder presented with unusually mature storytelling sophistication, whereas The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 are primarily concerned with the struggles of being a grown person: how to raise a family, how to earn a living, how to reconcile the way you live with the self-identity you perceive on the inside. With this focus along with its period trappings, Incredibles 2 continues asking its franchise’s fundamental question of whether or not we have shaped society as it ought to be.

Incredibles 2, like the original, is vague about its time period, but based on the outfits, manner of speaking, and predominant technology, it is easy to peg it as 1960s America. With that in mind, if The Incredibles were to exist as a TV series, it is not too hard to imagine it as the first animated example of AMC’s stable of period dramas. (The presence of two of the stars of Better Call Saul among the voice cast certainly bolsters this perception.) Incredibles 2 features more stable (though no less harried) domesticity than Mad Men, but the concerns of Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) are not terribly different from those of Don Draper, while Helen Parr’s (Holly Hunter) career-minded focus in the face of skepticism is absolutely of a piece with that of Peggy Olson. Writer/director Brad Bird’s grounded approach to the existence of supers allows all viewers to consider that no matter what their own unique abilities are, they ought to make the best of them, for the world’s sake.

The reflectiveness and contextualization inherent to a period setting are key to getting the point across. This outing, in which Helen/Elastigirl is recruited for a PR campaign to make superpowers legal again while fighting a mysterious villain who uses screens to carry out mind control schemes, touches upon issues of media manipulation, trust (or lack thereof) in institutions, and the power and limits of basing a campaign around a single figurehead. Anyone paying attention to the political scene in 2018 will recognize similar disturbances in Incredibles 2. It is important to be reminded that these crises are not new and to know a big part of being an adult is responding to these challenges.

Bottom line: if you loved the kinetic action and family dynamics of the first Incredibles, you will probably love them all over again in Incredibles 2. If the prospect of a baby growing into his impressively wide-ranging superpowers has you excited, just wait until you see what Jack-Jack is up to. And rest assured, Edna Mode’s (Bird) scenes do not disappoint. This entry is not as mold-breaking as the original, but it is reliably entertaining and has plenty to say.

Incredibles 2 is Recommended If You Like: The Incredibles, AMC period dramas

Grade: 4 out of 5 Eye Lasers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Big Sick’ is the Best Romantic Comedy in Years

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter

Director: Michael Showalter

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Adults and Comedians Talking Like Adults and Comedians

Release Date: June 23, 2017 (Limited)/Expands July 14, 2017

The Big Sick follows the classic rom-com template in a lot of ways despite not  resembling any other entry in the genre in any obvious fashion. But if you look close enough, that formula is there. There’s a meet-cute, a dramatic misunderstanding, and a climactic reunion. It is usually that middle portion when lesser rom-coms start to become annoying or even offensive, but when the miscommunications happen because one half of the central couple is in a coma, the struggles along the way to that happy ending become a lot more understandable.

Based on the real-life courtship of comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who plays a fictionalized version of himself) and his co-writer/now-wife Emily V. Gordon, The Big Sick is an astute portrayal of culture clash, modern romance tics, and the workaday stand-up comedy lifestyle. Kumail hits it off with Emily (Zoe Kazan) after she kinda, sorta heckles him, they go back to his place so that they can hook up and he can show her some cool obscure genre flicks like The Abominable Dr. Phibes (she teasingly takes him to task for testing her pop culture tastes). Soon enough they are basically inseparable. Alas, Kumail has been keeping Emily a secret from his parents because he comes from a traditional Pakistani family that practices arranged marriage, so any future with her comes with a risk of being ostracized. This would all be enough conflict on its own, but on top of that, just after they break, Emily succumbs to a mysterious illness that leads to doctors placing her in a medically induced coma.

Classic rom-com humor tends to spring from witticisms and oddball characterizations, but The Big Sick’s most hilarious elements come from its knack for outrageous joke-telling. This is called playing to your strengths. Nanjiani is one of the most top-tier funnymen around today, and the rest of the film’s core stand-up crew are played by some reliable comedic heavy hitters (Kurt Braunohler, Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham). The Big Sick wins you over because it goes broad and plentiful with its emotions. Every moment of worry over Emily’s health is counteracted with a big guffaw.

Nanjiani and company further distinguish themselves within the rom-com mold in how the make-up and reunion portion plays out. Kumail and Emily find themselves back to each other thanks mostly to the work he puts in with her parents, Terry (Ray Romano) and Beth (Holly Hunter). Romano brings the soulful gravitas he has made his specialty in his dramatic roles, but his comic chops are just as sharp as the young guns around him, and Hunter is the same spitfire we have loved for so long (her confrontation of a racist heckler is one of the film’s best scenes). While Kazan is unconscious for much of the narrative, she does not get shortchanged in the deal (SPOILER ALERT that is kind of given away by one of the film’s co-writers being alive), as she and Kumail still have to hash everything out once she is awake, which justifies the fairly lengthy running time (right around 2 hours). Ultimately, you can feel that every element of the story is in the right place; surely some elements were fictionalized, but the emotional truth is always full-to-bursting.

The Big Sick is Recommended If You Like: Knocked Up, Master of None, Ruby Sparks

Grade: 5 out of 5 Drop Ins