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Ronny Chieng: International Success

Having already made his bones as an integral part of The Daily Show, Malaysian-born Ronny Chieng is taking centre stage in Ronny Chieng: International Student, a new comedy series based on his own experiences studying in Melbourne.
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Ronny Chieng: International Student

Home, Review, Television, This Week Leave a Comment

Ronny Chieng, known for his work in local stand up and on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in the United States, takes inspiration from his time at Uni to create the contemporary and funny collegiate comedy Ronny Chieng: International Student. The series follows the fictional Ronny and his friends, all but one of whom (Ronny’s Australian love interest Asher, played by Molly Daniels) are roommates in the International House, as they attend Law School in Australia.

Ronny Chieng: International Student lampoons students of all types and mocks the everyday quirks of a campus and its bureaucracy. For example, when Asher’s laptop gets a virus, it constantly repeats the phrase, “You have been impregnated by the sperm virus.” As Chieng runs across campus to fix Asher’s computer, he must deal with impossible administrative officials, unhelpful IT support, and a team of bullying computer nerds.

The development between characters is more present in the friendships that develop than between Ronny and Asher through their romantic storyline. Chieng spends much of the season in the “friend zone”; despite a few plot points revolving around Ronny trying to impress or help, these usually fall to the side as funnier and stronger moments arise.

This speaks to the strength of the ensemble, which bring it to virtually every scene. The entire supporting cast is funny and willing to take their performances to the next level, playing with stereotypes and then breaking them down. Even guest actors deliver exaggerated performances that make this collegiate world absurd, yet still grounded in reality.

In one particularly funny episode, Ronny joins an improv team to impress Asher. But, the main storyline of Ronny’s unrequited love ends up being a distraction to the insane performances from some of the actors (look out for a Shia LaBeouf impression) and the witty writing.

The ensemble has plenty of gifted comedians, including Hoa Xuande as Elvin and Patch May as Craig, two foils who produce some of the best scenes in the series when they are at odds and when they are working together.

If you are familiar with Ronny Chieng, he brings a similar comedic style to this show as he does The Daily Show, a passionate, narcissistic, and angrily quizzical viewpoint on the world. His voice is clear, but leveled out by the other characters with their own unique styles.

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The Big Sick

Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

It’s hard to know exactly how much of The Big Sick is true and how much is pure movie magic; but when the final product is so warm and fuzzy, who really cares?

We started hearing a lot of hype around this indie gem when it screened at Sundance earlier this year. The story comes straight from the hearts of real-life couple and scriptwriters Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, covering a period of time when they met and fell in love. What separates this from your typical mainstream rom-com are the complications that arose when Emily contracted a mysterious illness.

Nanjiani, who most will know and love from his role in the HBO series Silicon Valley, plays a loosely-based version of himself, while Emily is brought to life by Ruby Sparks’ Zoe Kazan. Their chemistry on-screen feels genuine, so even though the timeline within this film is never really established it’s not hard to accept that Kumail would become so invested in Emily’s health in what could be a relatively short time.

As the film’s writer, Nanjiani obviously recognises the emotional toll carried with each line of dialogue; however as an actor he sometimes struggles to portray said emotion. His comical timing and ability to carry that nerdy balance of awkward/confident is what makes him fun to watch; but he’s just not that convincing when it comes to showing sadness and anger.

While the opening act of ‘boy meets girl’ is cute, the film really finds its feet in the second act when we meet Emily’s parents, played brilliantly by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano.

Their relationship with Kumail is where the heart of this film truly lies, with neither party actually wanting to bond but their good nature and a mutual love for Emily tying them together. The cultural differences between them are also where much of the film’s humour comes into play.

What the script does incredibly well is to give supporting characters (namely the families and Kumail’s comedy troupe) fulfilling arcs with a beginning and conclusion – however this is also the reason the run-time drags.

All in all, The Big Sick is funny but not laugh-out-loud hysterical, and it’s moving but not enough to bring you to tears. While exploring cultural differences in America makes this unique, it’s not executed in a way that surpasses shows such as Fresh Off The Boat or Master of None.

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Ali’s Wedding

Australian, Review, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

Like the first snowflake of an eventual avalanche, it’s a seemingly small untruth that starts a whole ball of catastrophe rolling in Ali’s Wedding: expected to go to medical school by his proud but somewhat domineering parents, Iraqi-Australian Ali (Osamah Sami) does the only thing he can in the moment: he lies about his entrance exam results.

His folks are ecstatic, especially his father, prominent Imam Mahdi (Don Hany); a medical student son not only brings much prestige to the family, it ups Ali’s status as an eligible bachelor, and soon Ali is being shopped around as husband material. This doesn’t jibe well with our hero’s own romantic intentions, as he’s fallen for Dianne (Helana Sawires), an Egyptian-Australian medical student he met while sneaking into classes (funny how one lie leads to another, isn’t it?). Events, as they tend to do, escalate.

Billed as Australia’s first Muslim rom-com (it isn’t;  director Peter Andrikidis and writer Alex Lykos beat ’em to it in 2015 with Alex & Eve, albeit that was a Greek/Muslim rom-com), Ali’s Wedding is based on the real life experiences of star and co-writer Osamah Shah, as detailed in his book, Good Muslim Boy. At the heart of the story is the old tradition vs freedom tango, and that’s an especially interesting binary when placed in Australia’s Muslim diaspora. Things got particularly complicated when Ali, fumbling the subtle social code he’s only nominally aware of, accidentally consents to an arranged marriage, putting a pretty serious clock on his obligation vs desire dilemma.

There’s a happy ending waiting at the end of all this tomfoolery (that’s not a spoiler, it’s a genre convention) and director Jeffrey Walker (Dance Academy) guides us there with a light touch and a bright palette. He takes longer than he should, though – at 110 minutes, Ali’s Wedding is pushing it, timewise. A comedy near the two hour mark wants to be consistently, almost constantly funny. This one, while fairly engaging, tends to hover around the “fond” smile” end of the meter, rather than burying the belly laugh needle.

Strong performances and likable characters save the day, though, with Hany and newcomer Sawires particularly standing out. Ali’s Wedding is an immensely charming offering, but falls short of being a new classic.