[#2018oscardeathrace] Victoria & Abdul (2017)

Director: Stephen Frears

Cast: Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Tim Pigot-Smith, Paul Higgins

Screenplay: Lee Hall

111 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design [Pending]

 

Director Stephen Frears (The Queen, Florence Foster Jenkins) seems to surprise me with his films. He has regularly directed films that, on the surface, seem very boring, but when I see them, I’m often shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed them. Victoria & Abdul is another such film that seemed rather boring from what I’ve seen. But did the finished film actually work?

Victoria & Abdul is the story of a friendship between an aging Queen Victoria (Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal, Murder on the Orient Express) and her Indian Muslim servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal, Furious 7, Fukrey Returns). This friendship is resented by son Bertie (Eddie Izzard, Ocean’s Thirteen, The LEGO Batman Movie) and others in England, who devise several plots to get rid of Abdul and send him back to India.

Frears’s new film suffers from the same issue that some of his previous films have: their pacing. Victoria & Abdul should’ve been tightened down by cutting around 20 minutes from the film. There is a sizable chunk in the middle that doesn’t develop either character and also doesn’t advance the narrative.

What saves the film is the central relationship between Queen Victoria & Abdul Karim. It is the scenes with these two that are so spectacularly well-acted that it makes the entire viewing experience all the more enjoyable. Dench and Fazal put in some of the best performances of 2017, hands down, and their chemistry is terrific.

On the other side of that coin, I didn’t find the supporting “antagonists” of the film to be very well-written. I didn’t really understand their motives outside of them just being mad or jealous. It just didn’t work for me and I didn’t find them interesting or compelling enough to support the narrative’s driving force.

Victoria & Abdul showcases its two leads and their central relationship, and while the “villains” were less than stellar and Frears still hasn’t solved his pacing issues, Dench and Fazal have so much infectious chemistry that it still makes the film worth it. The technical merits of the film are finely-tuned here and the story is a very enjoyable character piece. Check this one out.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Stephen Frears’s Philomena, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Early Review] The Big Sick (2017)

Director: Michael Showalter

Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Adeel Akhtar, Anupam Kher

Screenplay: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani

120 mins. Rated R for language including some sexual references.

 

The Big Sick opens in several markets tomorrow, and I was lucky enough to catch an early viewing of the film. What did I think? It just might be the best film of the year.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani, TV’s Silicon Valley, Fist Fight) is a struggling comic living in Chicago when he meets Emily (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks, Our Brand is Crisis). The two build a romance, but Kumail’s Pakistani family are regularly setting Kumail up with other women in an attempt to force an arranged marriage. It forces Kumail and Emily into a breaking point, but when Emily ends up in the hospital sick with something the doctors cannot diagnose, Kumail takes up residence at her side while creating conflict with Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter, The Incredibles, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Terry (Ray Romano, TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond, Ice Age: Collision Course).

The Big Sick is a touching, beautiful, and very funny look at the goings on of an American relationship, the central focus of the film being adapted from Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s actual courtship. It holds actual emotional resonance and is capably handled by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name is Doris, The Baxter).

I think the biggest win for The Big Sick, apart from its excellent screenplay, come from its performers. This is a standout performance for Nanjiani, but Hunter and Romano are excellent as the awkward and impersonal Beth and Terry. This should be a year of nominations for both.

The third act does run on a bit longer than it needs, but The Big Sick is an excellent character piece. I fell in love with these characters and I can’t wait to see this film over and over again, and I  think you’ll agree. This film has become my favorite film in 2017 (sorry Okja).

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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