To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018)

To All the Boys I've loved before

There is palpable chemistry between Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo)

There are a good number of rarities that occur in director Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018). Such include teenagers that act like actual teenagers,  well talented acting youths, and a Netflix original that is actually enjoyable (unlike their recent film The Kissing Booth, which I would review if I could ever power myself through the thing).

But back to this film. Based off of a book of the same name by Jenny Han, the movie introduces us to Lara Jean (an extremely lovable Lana Condor). She is entering her Junior year of High School after her sister Margot (Janel Parrish) has left for college, leaving Lara Jean with her widowed dad (the always wonderful John Corbett), her little sister Kitty (Anna Cathcart), and next door neighbor/former best friend Josh (Israel Broussard). I say former not because they grew apart, but because he was the former boyfriend of Margot, so a friendship would be difficult at best.

Since about the pre-teen years, we learn that Lara Jean has kept letters she has written to certain boys she has had crushes on over the years (Josh being one of them). Kitty finds out about the letters and mails them out. This is not because of Kitty being a mean, bratty little sibling. It is because she loves her sister and that love trumps over Kitty not knowing her sister will have a hard time for the near future.

While some recipients are no longer on the table (such as her freshman year homecoming date Greg who is gay, played by Andrew Bachelor), the main drama comes with Peter (Noah Centineo). He was Lara Jean’s first “kiss” during a spin the bottle game in seventh grade, and has just recently broken up with one of Lara Jean’s former friends Gen (Emilija Baranac).  Peter and Lara Jean therefore come up with an idea: pretend to be dating so that it makes Gen jealous enough to take him back. Of course, a couple of ground rules must be put in order (such as no kissing).

While one of the keys of the film is Condor’s screen presence, another is her chemistry with Centineo’s Peter. The main scene for me was in the local diner, where they actually stop “pretending” and have a serious talk (we learn Peter’s dad had left him and has a new family now). That scene made me realize how this movie was going to be much better than anticipated.

One thing that threw me off was I realized there was more romance in this romantic comedy than there would be comedy. That is not to say I did not laugh: much of the comedic lines comes from Lara Jean’s best friend Chris (Madeleine Arthur), who is a strong personality to say the least. There is also a great deal of coming of age ness that made me feel some shades of John Hughes. The movie truly digs deep into the realism of those first few stages we feel when it is not just us falling in love, but the other falling in love with us.

Parents, there is some swearing (not sure if I counted any F bombs), and talk of sex. While there is no sex in the film, there is a hot tub scene where two characters are making out and is (minor spoiler) mistaken as sex. I would say High School and above, but maybe Middle School. Maybe.

I am still not sure I like the title of the film. I know it is based on a book (which is in a series), but I just felt the title seems off-putting. Nevertheless, when you consider some of the bad original films that Netflix has (like the awful Irreplaceable You), it makes it all the more reason to state that To All the Boys I Loved Before is truly a diamond in the rough.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Crazy Rich Asians

(From left) Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is introduced to her son Nick’s (Henry Golding) new girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu)

Was I the only one confused by a title like Crazy Rich Asians? I am not sure. It was about a fourth or a third of the way into director Jon M. Chu’s film that I realized how perfect the title truly is. Are they crazy and rich or just “crazy rich”? The answer is a resounding yes. The words can also describe the film as well. Afterall, it is crazy that this is the first film western film in a quarter century to have an all Asian cast (the last was 1993’s The Joy Luck Club). It is rich in comedy, romance, and all out heart.

Also, it is Crazy how the lead actor Henry Golding is able to make his first film performance here so memorable. He plays Nick Young, who has been dating Rachel Chu (an instantly lovable Constance Wu) for over a year. His best friend Colin (Chris Pang) is getting married in one of the biggest weddings ever (more on that later). It is on the plane ride to Singapore that Nick breaks the news that his family is rich (which is a vast understatement).

As anyone (such as myself) who has a big family knows, this is truly one of the biggest steps in the relationship. Of all the family members, it is Nick’s mother (an impeccable Michelle Yeoh) who is the most critical. Their first meeting does go over well (sorta), though Rachel does tend to strike a better relationship with Nick grandmother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu, who also starred in The Joy Luck Club).

What makes the film most endearing is how every cast member embraces their individual roles close to their hearts. One of the first characters we meet in Singapore is Rachel’s old college friend Peik (Awkwafina), who still lives at home with her dad (Ken Jeong). Jeong may be the only person who can tell his kids who refuse to eat that “there are starving kids in America”. Nico Santos also has a lot of scene stealing as Nick’s cousin Oliver, who is as theatrical as they come. Constance Wu is also quite convincing in the lead female role. She knows she is in a predicament (to say the least), but still approaches it with class, courage, and good humor (“I’m so Chinese, I’m an econ professor that’s lactose intolerant.”)

Parents, the PG-13 rating is mainly for language (I think I heard one F bomb) and suggestive material. There is no nudity or anything, yet there is a good amount of partying that brings a lot of suggestive material. I would say middle school and up.

If asked how rich these people are, the best I could say would be it would make Charles Foster Kane feel a little envious (only a little). Just look at the food (which will make you hungry) and the clothes and the decorations to see what I mean. I left the theater sad, feeling I wanted to know more about these characters and what happened after. Thankfully, I found out that the book the film is based on is part one of a trilogy, so there is more to come.

Simply put, Crazy Rich Asians is the film equivalent of a heartwarming hug.

 

Overall:  Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

Bringing up Baby (1938)

Bringing up baby.jpg

Hepburn and Grant have more shenanigans to deal with than just the leopard…

Nearly eight decades after it was released, Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby is still as fresh and hilarious and romantic and chaotic as it was when it was released. Parents, if you want to introduce your kids to classic Hollywood at an early age, here is a perfect candidate (and to get them to meet two of the biggest stars the movies has ever had).

In a nutshell, the film stars Cary Grant as David, a paleontologist who is hoping to get an offer of a million dollars for his museum. The problem is, he keeps running into the ever happy-go-lucky Susan, played by Katharine Hepburn. She has inherited a leopard named Baby from her brother in Africa. The situations in this movie are too complicated to explain in words, let alone worthless to try, since they are better to be experienced.

Grant performs effortlessly as David, who is undoubtably the cautious type. Still, it is clearly Hepburn who steals the spotlight (as she did in almost every single one of her movies). Her performance is dazzling. You wonder why it is she is not frightened (most of the time) of the awkward situations she gets into (my favorite is when she is thrown into jail). Perhaps the best answer would be that the role is so like Hepburn in real life that very little acting was required, if any at all.

Parents, there is really nothing to worry about at all for the kids (despite one character saying they went “gay all of a sudden”, but it is mainly played for laughs). Any age is fine with this movie.

I admit some of the parts did confuse me a bit, but they were far outweighed by my laughter, which occurred a lot.

Is this the best movie for Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn? Hard to say. They each made a trunk load of classics that will be around as long as movie goers search for them. Still, as stated before, it is one that is perfect to start with if you want to see some of the early days of classic comedy.
Overall: Five Stars *****

The Big Sick (2017)

The BIg SIck

Emily (Zoe Kazan) and Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) in The Big Sick

Wow, what a breath of fresh air is The Big Sick. It is truly unlike any romantic movie I have seen in some time, probably the best since 2009’s 500 Days of Summer. I sat there watching the movie, realizing I had no idea where it would lead me, because it does not follow the cliché plot points of other movies in the genre. True, part of it could be because it is based on the true story of how Kumail Nanjiani met his wife Emily V. Gordon, but since they both wrote the script (and what a script!), it is clear it was close to their hearts.
Kumail plays himself, a struggling wannabe stand up comedian in downtown Chicago. We get some great looks at what stand-ups are like moments before they go on stage (one being described as “Daniel-Day Lewis, except he sucks”. In the audience, he gets a heckle from a member, who is Emily (Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of Elia). To say that they have great chemistry is a gross understatement.
The problem is that Kumail’s family is from Pakistan, so it is custom for him to marry a girl of his race. Every night at dinner, his mother (Zenobia Shroff) has to answer the door, because she has “casually” invited a woman over for dinner who happened to be walking by (Kumail keeps a box full of the woman his mother has tried to set her up with). He is also reminded by his brother Naveed (Adeel Akhtar) that their mother and father (Anupam Kher) will kick Kumail out of the family if he decides to marry a girl from another race.
Not long after an argument between Kumail and Emily, Kumail gets a call that Emily is in the hospital with an unknown disease that forces Emily to be put into a medical induced coma. During that time, Kumail meets Emily’s parents Beth and Terry (the perfectly cast Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.) Beth is clearly a bit more high-strung than Terry (who keeps notes at every meeting and discussion they have with Emily’s doctors). I will let you find out how outrageous Terry’s advice on love is that he tells Kumail.
The relationships that Kumail makes with all the characters in the movie is one of the best things about the film. Still, the strong point is the relationship he has with Emily’s parents. There is one scene where, in the hospital cafeteria, Terry invites Kumail to sit with him and his wife. The conversation they have is one I will not mention a word of, except to say it still has me laughing days after I saw the movie. Some may find the dialogue in that scene to be a little too risky for humor, but that is not why we laugh at it. We laugh at it because of the awkwardness of the situation.
Parents, the R rating is clearly justified. There is no nudity or sex scenes (some making out and characters waking up in bed after sex), but the film is rated R mainly for swearing. A lot of swearing (some sexual). Mature High School and above only.
Something that is very clear about The Big Sick is the fact that it clearly has a lot of scenes that tug at the heart. It is not just the fact that we fear for certain characters, but that we have sensed they have grown as people over the course of the events of the movie. That alone is essential to any film genre.
Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2