The Big Sick

the-big-sick-rev The Big Sick  (2017)    Lionsgate/Comedy-Drama    RT: 120 minutes    Rated R (language, some sexual references)    Director: Michael Showalter    Screenplay: Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon    Music: Michael Andrews    Cinematography: Brian Burgoyne    Release date: June 23, 2017 (US, limited)/July 14, 2017 (US, expansion)    Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher, Zenobia Shroff, Adeel Akhtar, Bo Burnham, Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, Vella Lovell, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Jeremy Shamos, David Alan Grier, Ed Herbstman, Shenaz Treasurywala.

Rating: fullstar1fullstar1fullstar1halfstar1  

 The love story depicted in The Big Sick is too crazy to be true, right? That’s one school of thought. Another is that it’s so crazy, it has to be true. Guess what? It’s both crazy AND true. It makes for one hell of a movie too. The Big Sick, a semi-autobiographical piece written by lead actor Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and his real-life leading lady Emily Gordon, is a rom-com with attitude. In it, a Pakistani man defies tradition and falls in love with a white woman only to have her fall seriously ill shortly after they break up. Despite their current relationship status, he decides to stick around until she awakens from her medically-induced coma. It’s not as maudlin as it sounds, trust me. It’s actually quite funny and sweet in its own dark way.

 the big sickBy day, Kumail (played by Nanjiani) drives an Uber. By night, he’s a struggling stand-up comedian. He lives with a roommate Chris (comedian Braunohler) in a Chicago apartment that’s about half a step up from a college dorm room. He comes from a traditional Pakistani Muslim family who insist that he continue their tradition of arranged marriage. His mother (Shroff) regularly invites single Pakistani women to “drop by” when Kumail comes for dinner. He takes the pictures and information they give him and stashes them in a cigar box. He doesn’t want to marry a Pakistani woman his mother finds for him. Hell, he doesn’t even pray anymore.

 One night while he performs at a club, a woman in the audience heckles him. It’s Emily (Kazan, What If), a grad student who plans to be a therapist. The chemistry is automatic. They hit it off immediately. They repeatedly insist they’re not dating even though they keep hooking up. A relationship grows between them and all seems to be going well until Emily finds Kumail’s cigar box. She confronts him about it and he admits to not telling his parents about her for fear of being disowned. She storms out of his place and, presumably, out of his life.

 Sometime later, Kumail receives a call from one of her friends asking him to sit with Emily at the hospital where she’s gone to receive treatment for flu-like symptoms. Sadly, it’s way more serious than that. She has an infection around her lungs and in order for the doctors to remove it safely, she’ll have to be placed in a medically-induced coma. They just need her husband to sign the form (even if he’s not her husband). Kumail signs it then calls her parents, nerdy Terry (Romano, Parenthood) and feisty Beth (Hunter, Raising Arizona), who come up from North Carolina to be by their daughter’s side. Although not a welcome presence at first, the parents both start to bond with Kumail who realizes that he handled his relationship with Emily very poorly. He hopes for a chance to try again if she wakes up.

 The only thing keeping The Big Sick from a four-star rating is the running time. Like many Judd Apatow productions, it runs a tad longer than it needs to. It could have used some tightening up, especially towards the end. If not for that, this truly great movie would be excellent. ‘Tis but a small wrinkle in a thoroughly enjoyable rom-com that avoids the usual culture clash clichés for something much greater. It deftly mixes intercultural romance with medical drama by having one of its players spend the majority of the time unconscious in a hospital bed while the other tries to make nice with the parents who don’t quite understand why he’s still here. Mom is initially hostile towards Kumail but then again, she’s an angry woman. Dad, on the other hand, stumbles through attempts at casual conversation although it’s questionable that 9/11 falls under that category. Meanwhile, Kumail tries to get ready for an important audition that could make or break his career. It’s a pretty safe bet that Emily’s condition will make a major turn just moments before he’s scheduled to go on.

 There’s a lot to love about The Big Sick. Nanjiani is an engaging presence. He’s proud of his ethnicity as proven by his willingness to playfully poke fun at various aspects of his culture. His character is working on a one-man show about what it was like growing up Pakistani. I love the details added to his character such as his fondness for B-level horror movies like The Abominable Dr. Phibes (starring Vincent Price). He has great chemistry with Kazan who’s phenomenal in this movie even if she is unconscious most of the time. She and Nanjiani have this easy, unforced banter that never grows tiresome or annoying. At 59, Hunter is still a little firecracker. There’s this one scene in a comedy club where she comes to Kumail’s defense against a racist heckler hollering remarks about ISIS. It’s an instant classic scene. Romano is also good as the well-meaning dad whose own marriage is on the rocks. At this point, I no longer see him as Raymond from his hit sitcom (which I personally didn’t like).

 I like to make observations about audiences I watch movies with. This time, I noticed that many people, including myself, laughed often during The Big Sick. It wasn’t the nasty laughter usually afforded to mean-spirited comedies. It wasn’t derisive laughter like you’d hear at any given Michael Bay craptacular. It wasn’t the hollow laughter normally heard at lackluster comedies featuring some big star. It was genuine, honest-to-God laughter. The Big Sick is a funny movie. It’s in the behavior of the characters. It’s in the dialogue. It’s in the way Kumail deals with his family when the truth finally comes out about Emily. The movie is also dramatic without being melodramatic. Directed by Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris), it’s great on many levels. I think Nanjiani is on his way to bigger things. The Big Sick will do for him what Trainwreck did for Amy Schumer. I think it will also boost Kazan’s career. It should be noted that it’s based on the actual relationship between Nanjiani and his wife Emily (we see a few photos of the real life couple at the start of the end credits). It makes you wish real life always yielded happy endings like this. 

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