Chicago Cinema Circuit reviews “The Big Sick,” “Baby Driver,” “The Beguiled,” and “47 Meters Down”

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THE BIG SICK

It’s been a decade since Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was released. And in that decade, the template of Apatow’s romantic-comedy formula has seeped into every imaginable cultural sphere. If it’s raunchy yet observed from a squeaky-clean white, heteronormative, and culturally unspecific place then it’s likely a product of Apatow’s frequently replicated, though rarely (convincingly) reproduced worldview. The Big Sick, which is produced by Judd Apatow, is an intriguing true story from Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani. It’s a story filled with specific cultural and personal details that resists the narrow and jejune blueprint proliferated by Apatow and Co. Or one would have hoped.

BABY DRIVER

Baby (Ansel Elgort) flips through channels with his deaf-mute stepfather asleep next to him, shifting past the likes of Monster’s Inc. and Fight Club; the sort of films that ornate late-night cable’s movie lineups ad nauseam. But as was the case with Edgar Wright’s seminal Shaun of the Dead (where a character mindlessly flips through channels as the images’ collective message spells out the looming zombie threat outside), what’s on television, especially Wright’s television, tends to speak to something a bit more specific. And while the clip of Monster’s Inc. would be directly referenced later in Baby Driver, it’s the clip pulled from Fight Club that echoes most conspicuously: it’s the scene where Brad Pitt’s character curtly inquires about how [being clever] is working out for Edward Norton’s character. It’s an intriguing scene to pull from, bluntly calling to question: how’s being clever working out for Edgar Wright?

THE BEGUILED

Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a reexamination of the many critical themes that ornate her unblemished filmography. Here, she reconsiders the masculine vanity that she first addressed in The Virgin Suicides, where she replaces Josh Hartnett’s Trip Fontaine with Colin Farrell’s Cpl. John McBurney. In these two characters, and a multitude of men in between, she exposes a specific masculine preoccupation that prizes women for their sexuality yet responds with hostile confusion at efforts to exercise their agency. This element is considerably underplayed in Don Siegel’s original adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s novel, which tellingly opens on a voiceover from McBurney’s perspective as Clint Eastwood’s hushed and gritty tenor is matched with barbaric Civil War imagery. Coppola’s film opens instead with a young girl whistling the Civil War tune “Lorena”, a lyrical song with a profound history that crossed Northern and Southern hostilities as an expression of compassion and longing. The considerably more empathetic and wistful opening in contrast to Siegel’s version isn’t necessarily a condemnation, but rather an intriguing counterpoint: the two films tell the same story but are firmly entrenched in different worldviews.

47 METERS DOWN

The swirl of red in the water that opens Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down isn’t someone’s blood but a spilled glass of cabernet. And we’re not in the vast void that is the Pacific Ocean, but rather a Cancun resort pool where we find sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) embracing the sort of hedonistic pleasures that can seriously bend someone’s perception of reality. It’s a place where people go to forget, and in Lisa’s case, she’s getting over a breakup with her long-time boyfriend. Lisa confesses that the reason for the breakup was because she’s too boring. This absence of temerity will serve as the propulsive narrative element that finds Lisa and Kate at the bottom of the ocean encircled by sharks. Consciousness effectively becomes nature’s nightmare, where being mauled by a school of elasmobranchii proves to be a rational alternative to being a boring human being – this boozy film is a little more interesting than it lets on.

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