Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Holly Hunter

The Big Sick – A Real Life Romance is Funny and Charming


Fans of HBO’s Silicon Valley won’t want to miss Kumail Nanjiani’s performance in The Big Sick, a romantic comedy based on his real life relationship with Emily V. Gordon. If you’re not familiar with Kumail’s portrayal of computer geek Dinesh Chugtai, then that’s even more reason to see the film. Gordon, now Kumail’s wife, shares writing credit with her husband and is played in the film by the elfin Zoe Kazan.

Coming from a strict Pakistani family, Kumail is expected, like his brother, Naveed (Adeel Aktar), to agree to an arranged marriage. Each dinner with his parents finds a young Pakistani woman dropping in “unexpectedly.” Kumail’s mother, Sharmeen (Zenobia Shroff) is a force, relentless in her efforts to manage her son’s life. Kumail’s father, Azmat (Anupam Kher), is less aggressive, but goes along with his wife’s plan. When Kumail falls in love with Emily, he knows that he risks being cut off from his family.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano

Kumail is already on thin ice with his parents, having defied their wishes that he become a doctor. Instead, he struggles to make it as a stand up comic, working the clubs at night, and driving an Uber during the day. He meets Emily in the club after one of his sets and, despite their cultural differences, the attraction is immediate. Emily wants him to meet her parents, but Kumail resists the idea that she should meet his. Emily discovers a wooden box where he has been tossing photographs of all those Pakistani women he’s met, and she understands that their relationship has little chance to succeed. A tearful breakup follows, Kumail torn between the woman he loves and the family he doesn’t want to lose.

When Emily falls seriously ill, Kumail goes to the hospital to see her. The doctors need someone’s signature in order to place Emily in a medically-induced coma while they figure out how to treat the infection that is ravaging her body. Without her parents there, Kumail signs as her husband.

Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry, soon show up – terrific performances by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Beth knows about the breakup and both she and Terry are initially rude to Kumail. He’s relentless, however, showing up day after day to sit at Emily’s bedside. Soon the trio  begins to bond. Attending one of Kumail’s routines at the club, Beth mixes it up with a patron who heckles Kumail because he’s a Muslim.

                           Aidy Bryant, Bo Turnham, and Kurt Braunohler 

After Emily wakes up, however, the young woman tells Kumail she never wants to see him again. He makes several attempts to change her mind, to no avail. Of course we know, that they will ultimately get together. How and where is the key.

Produced by Judd Apatow and directed by one of Kumail’s longtime friends, Michael Showalter, The Big Sick (despite that unfortunate title), is a very funny, warm-hearted film, one that should do well with audiences looking for an alternative to those disaster and superhero films that dominate screens during the summer months. Kumail’s talents as a comic, his delivery and timing, are no surprise to those who watch Silicon Valley. Kumail is part of an ensemble on that show. Here he breaks out as a solo performer, particularly when doing his standup act. His fellow comics, played by SNL’s Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, and Kurt Braunohler, deliver humorous standup routines. But it’s the angst each displays off stage that underlines the difficulties of what it takes to make it in a crowded field.

Zoe Kazan

Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of famed director Elia Kazan, lights up the screen as Emily. She can deliver a funny line as cleverly as Kumail. If the real life Emily is as charming and witty as portrayed here by Zoe (and since Emily co-wrote the script, we assume she is), then it’s easy to see how these two culturally different but comically similar people fell in love.

The Big Sick opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 23, nationwide on July 14, 2017.

Photos by Nicole Rivelli courtesy of Amazon Films.

Five Films Directed by Women


International Women’s Day is March 8th. In the spirit of the occasion, it seems appropriate to consider watching a movie with a woman director. Sadly, at present, this is a limited field, nevertheless we have found five worthy contenders and hope to see far, FAR more in the future.

The Piano (1993) Written and directed by New Zealand’s own Jane Campion, this romantic drama starring Holly Hunter as a mute piano player and widowed mother who becomes entangled in a convoluted love triangle with Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel. It made over $140 million worldwide on a seven million dollar budget, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three; Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for Campion. Campion also became the first and thus far only woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. She would later go on to direct the award winning romantic drama Bright Star, as well as write and direct the TV mystery/drama series Top Of the Lake starring Elisabeth Moss in a role that’s won her a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award.

Monsoon Wedding (2001) Directed by Indian born Mira Nair this romantic comedy details various entanglements and dramas taking place during a traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi. Along the way we are treated to song and dance numbers as well as a number of observations about life in Modern 21st Century India and Punjabi culture. The movie was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival making Nair only the second Indian to win in that category. Nair would go on to direct such films as The Namesake (nominated for a Gotham Award and Independent Spirit Award), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (for which Nair won The Bridge, The German Film Award for Peace), and Queen of Katwe (nominated for four NAACP Image Awards and Winner of Best Family Film by Women Film Critics Circle.)

Lost In Translation (2003) Written and directed by Sofia Coppola (daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola), this bittersweet comedy starring Bill Murray (in a role that many considered to be his best work to date and which launched a career renaissance for him) as a washed up movie star who connects with young, unhappy, newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson in her breakout role). The movie was a huge breakout success earning over a $100 million on a four million dollar budget. Johannson and Murray each received BAFTA Awards. The film garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Coppola actually won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Sofia would later become the first American woman to win the Golden Lion the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival for 2010’s Somewhere which she also wrote and directed.

The Hurt Locker (2009) Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days). This war thriller about an Iraqi bomb squad starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty is one of the most suspenseful and grittiest war movies ever made with an incredible emphasis on the psychological toll of combat. It’s so intense and realistic you can almost taste sand in your mouth during one particular sequence. It was universally acclaimed by critics and went on to win six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Bigelow won the award for Best Director and as of this date The Hurt Locker remains the first movie directed by a woman to win either Best Director or Best Picture. Bigelow would go on to direct Zero Dark Thirty which would be nominated for five Oscar awards including Best Picture.

Selma (2014) Directed by Ava DuVernay. While DuVernay was the first African American woman to win the Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Director for her feature film Middle of Nowhere, it was this historical drama starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. based on the real life voting marches from Selma to Montgomery,that helped her truly rise to prominence. With Selma, DuVernay became the first African American woman to be nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Director as well as the black female director to have her film nominated by the Academy for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th examining race and mass incarceration in the U.S. She’s currently working on directing on an adaption of A Wrinkle in Time for Disney with a budget exceeding $100 million making DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live action film with a budget of such size.

Top photo: Bigstock

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Is an Epic Let-Down


The latest powerhouse in comic-book adaptations, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, promises an explosive showdown between two of the biggest superheroes on the planet.  Picking up where Man of Steel left off—with the city of Metropolis in tatters following Superman’s battle with Zod—Batman v. Superman opens in an uncertain era with many questioning Superman’s intentions and power.  With Batman on a mission to stop Superman before he causes further harm, the two superheroes soon find themselves battling not just each other, but Lex Luthor’s evil creation, Doomsday, as well.  Starring Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, the movie is chock full of explosions, and action, but does it live up to the hype?

It’s safe to say that the one saving grace of Batman v. Superman is its epic action. Featuring a wealth of impressive CGI over the course of two and a half hours, the film is bolstered largely by its highly-choreographed action sequences and explosions. These scenes are aplenty, and keep the film from collapsing into insipid tedium. On the other hand, the non-action scenes of the movie are surprisingly dull. Many of the performances only add to the muted, listless tone of the film. The acting is not bad, just dreary.

BATMAN V SUPERMANWhile there are some standout performances—most notably, Gal Gadot’s impressive Wonder Woman—Ben Affleck’s Caped Crusader is disappointingly one-dimensional. Though Affleck succeeds at being stoic and steely, he lacks the charm of previous Bruce Waynes and leaves viewers yearning for Christian Bale or Michael Keaton incarnations. As evil Lex Luthor, Jesse Eisenberg falls flat in his over-the-top attempt to recall a giggling villain on the brink of insanity, à la Heath Ledger’s flawless Joker character in the Christopher Nolan series.  There are plenty of other famous faces in the movie—including Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Holly Hunter as Senator Finch, and Diane Lane as Superman’s mom—but the real treat of the supporting cast is Jeremy Irons. Though he is in the movie far too briefly, Irons adds some much needed lightness and humor to the film as Alfred, Batman’s long-suffering butler.

Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of JusticeIf you’re a fan of the original D.C. comics that inspired the movie, or of big-budget superhero movies in general, then Batman v. Superman will surely knock your socks off. If, however, you don’t have a Batman costume hanging in your closet, aren’t already clued in on storyline, or even know who Lex Luthor is, you might be bored. Those viewers unfamiliar with the storyline will feel stranded by the scarce and flimsy explanations of critical plot points. Unlike other films that offer mass appeal to a large range of viewers, like the recent Deadpool or even 2015’s Antman, Batman v. Superman feels like it is specifically tailored for comic-loving audiences.

Ultimately, the movie offers an interesting concept but feels like it’s drowning in its own seriousness. Taking a cue from other superhero blockbusters and injecting some warmth and humor to the film, as well as adopting a more linear plotline, would have benefitted Batman v. Superman greatly. If you’re not a teenage boy, or a die-hard comic fan, skip this film and re-watch Deadpool instead.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opens nationwide on Friday, March 25.