The Piano


“Is Holly Hunter humanly capable of delivering anything less than a first-rate performance? As someone whose budding stages of cinephilia are closely tied to Hunter’s vivid and versatile array of heroines, I can affirm that all the available evidence suggests she is not. Unfortunately, her preternatural ability to slide between personalities defined either by frankness (Broadcast News, Raising Arizona) or mystery (The Piano) has been sorely underused in recent years as the surfeit of wide-ranging big screen opportunities afforded her at the end of the last century slowly and unceremoniously dried up. But Hunter is back in fine form in Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick, bringing fantastic understanding to her crucial supporting role as a mother who must contend with a comatose daughter (Zoe Kazan) and said daughter’s involuntarily involved ex-boyfriend (Kumail Nanjiani). Hunter barges into the film with a flinty exterior that’s as delightful to study as the character’s eventual softening. She reveals a woman of buried resentments but a casually inviting charm, which sustains our interest even as the character proves less integral to the film than initially assumed. The Big Sick may not belong in the canon of top-tier Hunter turns — and bully for her for giving us so much untouchable screen acting to savor over the years. But I doubt there’s a single special effect more entertaining to watch this summer movie season than the sight of Hunter, her brows furrowed and eyes on fire, as she lays into a racist heckler at one of Nanjiani’s stand-up shows. The scene is a crowd-pleasing joy and so, as always, is Hunter.” — Matthew Eng

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